Terminology and your rights

Sex trafficking

Sex trafficking means that a commercial sex act happened because of force, fraud, or coercion. If anyone under the age of 18 engages in commercial sex for anything of value, it is also considered sex trafficking under federal law (even without the use of force, fraud, or coercion).

Commercial sexual exploitation

You may also hear terms like “Commercial Sexual Exploitation.”

  • Commercial - Means that it involves something of value such as money, shelter, drugs, or even a meal.

  • Sexual - Means it involves a sex act.

  • Exploitation - Means that someone who has more power is taking advantage of, using, or controlling someone else.

Commercial sexual exploitation doesn’t have to involve a trafficker or a pimp.

Why does this matter? Your rights

Are you undocumented?

By law, if you have experienced sex trafficking and are undocumented, you may be eligible to gain legal immigration status. An immigration attorney can help you or a friend figure out if that applies to you or them.

Are you worried you might go to jail for “prostitution”?

Many states also have laws regarding sex trafficking and incarceration. These are often called “safe harbor laws,” and decriminalize prostitution for youth under 18. In California, for example, SB 1322 says you cannot be arrested or incarcerated for selling sex if you are under 18 years of age.

What if you witness a violent crime?

Unfortunately, if you are a victim or witness of a violent crime and also participating in the sex trade, it often doesn’t feel safe to come forward. In early 2018, the San Francisco Police Department was the first in the United States to adopt a bulletin that shields sex workers who are reporting a violent crime from being arrested for prostitution (we think that’s pretty cool! Here’s an article about it). If you want to take a look at the exact language to advocate for something similar in your city, you can take a look at the police bulletin here.

Check out our resources page for Bay Area resources recommended by youth who worked on this site.