Children Abused in Sex Images on the Internet Mostly Aged 11 or Younger New Study Finds

ECPAT-USA Report “We Need to Do Better” based on news reports from 48 states 

Click here to read the full report.

Click here to read the full report.

More than half of children sexually abused in the millions of videos and photos available on the Internet are age 11 or younger, including 17 percent age 4 or younger, according to “We Need to Do Better”, a study released today by ECPAT-USA, the country’s leader in fighting child sex trafficking. The study is based on information from 538 news reports of crimes from 48 of the 50 U.S. states over a three-month period. Offenders, those creating, possessing and disseminating the material, are often in the child’s circle of trust: 56% were connected to schools or other youth work or a religious institution.  

“Despite the astounding growth in child sexual abuse material crimes over the past twenty years, the general public has little understanding about what it means, how vast the problem is, and how violently the children are abused in order to produce the imagery depicted in photographs and recordings of child sexual abuse,” said Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA. “We don’t use the word ‘pornography’ because the accurate description is images of sexual assault on children. Sometimes this assault is very violent, and some victims are as young as infants.”

The study found out of the 538 news reports:

  • 281 (52%) reported age-related information on the victim. 

    • 17.4% of victims were age 4 or younger. 

    • 36.7% of victims were age 9 or younger. 

    • 58.0% of victims were age 11 or younger. 

    • 72.6% of victims were age 13 or younger.

  • 133 (24.7%) reported the gender of the victim.

    • 72.9% of victims were female. 

    • 27.1% of victims were male.

  • 114 (21.2%) reported the profession of the offender.

    •  43.0% of cases involved an offender who was a teacher, school employee, youth worker, coach, or youth mentor. 

    • 19.3% of cases involved an offender who was in law enforcement or the armed forces, i.e., police sergeant, officer, state trooper, deputy, detective, public safety dispatcher, or a member of the army, air force, navy or coast guard. 

    • 13.2% of cases involved an offender who was a church worker, including priests and pastors. 

    • 7.0% of cases involved an offender who was a medical professional, i.e., doctor, surgeon, pediatrician, dentist, EMS worker, and health worker

  • All of the cases disclosed the gender of the offenders. 

    • 97% (521 cases) involved a male offender. 

    • 3% (17 cases) involved a female offender.

  • All of the news articles disclosed the age of the offenders. 

    • In 3% of cases, the offender was under the age of 21. 

    • In 61% of cases, the offender was between the ages of 21 and 44. 

    • In 30% of cases, the offender was between 45 and 64 years of age. 

    • In 6% of cases, the offender was over the age of 65.

The data on the 538 cases was gathered by using Google Alerts to find media reports in the United States from October to December of 2015. They include stories written at the time of arrest or, in some cases, at the time of trial or sentencing of a perpetrator.

In recent years the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse material has become much more widespread, with younger children being depicted. The invention of digital technology and the Internet have completely changed the playing field for the crime, making it easy for offenders to create, conceal and spread this material.

The ECPAT-USA report also summarizes the findings of other organizations:

  • Victims are getting younger. According to the USDoJ, the ages of victims depicted in child abuse imagery have significantly decreased. In 2014, 7% of victims were infants. According to the We Protect Global Alliance, this increase in pre-verbal children in recent years has been due to a deliberate effort to involve children who cannot self-report their abuse or describe what happened.

  • Images are more violent than ever: Reports by other organizations describe the increasing violence shown in the images. A report by ECPAT International and Interpol in 2018 found that more than 60% of victims were prepubescent and that the younger the child that was depicted, the more severe was the abuse.

  • There’s more than ever: The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC’s) CyberTipline received over 10.2 million reports of child sex abuse materials in 2017, a stark increase from the 1.1 million it received in 2014. And then it almost doubled in one year, reaching 18.4 million reports in 2018.

  • Videos are traded, giving more people the incentive to create them. For the most part, transactions appear to be non-commercial. In 2014, 91% of videos analyzed or processed by the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) were “shared or traded among like-minded criminal individuals at no cost.” Thus, “In order to have the requisite ‘new’ images needed to barter for images in return, a defendant may decide to produce images of his own abuse of a child.”

“This report draws attention to the tremendous growth in the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse material,” Smolenski said. “Because it is illegal to own even a single child sexual abuse image, and many people have never seen the images or heard about the issue, it is difficult for the public to grasp the nature and horror of the crime and the extreme abuse that is depicted. But it is important for there to be public knowledge about the problem if we are to create better policies and practices to protect children.”

The report includes recommendations for all segments of society including: 

The public:

  • Write to your legislator to tell him or her that you are concerned about this new growth of child sexual abuse materials and ask for greater regulation of tech companies.

Policy makers:

  • Federal and state sex offender laws should be strengthened and standardized to keep offenders from falling through the cracks.

  • A federal commission should be appointed to investigate and develop recommendations for how to make the Internet a safe place for children.

The private sector:

  • Robust background screening policies should be in place for anyone who works with children, including those who work as online moderators for tech companies.

  • All computer repair companies and technicians should receive awareness training about how to respond when this material is identified on a computer.


  • Education for parents, educators and youth about online safety should be implemented in every school across the country.

Religious institutions: 

  • Robust background checks should be in place for every person who works at a faith-based institution.

  • Mechanisms should be in place for children to safely report incidents of abuse to a safe and trusted adult.

The media: 

  • Report on the vast scale of child sexual abuse materials and provide details.  

  • Hold institutions responsible for their response or lack of one.

Although the term child pornography is used commonly in official documents and media, ECPAT-USA prefers the term child sexual abuse material. The word pornography refers to material with adult sexual content that in many cases is made and distributed legally, involving individuals who are legally old enough to provide sexual consent. It is ECPAT-USA’s position that the term child pornography does not adequately convey the horror and violence of sexual crimes against children.

ECPAT-USA Launches New Report At AHLA Safety Summit

ECPAT-USA was excited to participate in the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s annual Safety Summit in Washington, D.C. this week as part of the organization’s continuing efforts to make fighting human trafficking a top priority. Along with Polaris, ECPAT-USA spoke about the issue, the importance of training, and concrete steps the travel industry can take to protect children from exploitation.

Additionally, ECPAT-USA debuted their new “Unpacking Human Trafficking” report at the Summit. Financially supported by the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Foundation, the report is a survey of human trafficking signage and training laws across all 50 states. The publication is meant to help clarify laws and facilitate compliance for lodging facilities as an increasing number of states have passed laws requiring lodging facilities to combat human trafficking.

To learn more about how your company can partner with ECPAT-USA, click here.

ECPAT-USA Issues Report On State Human Trafficking Laws For The Lodging Industry

All Materials Required by Each State Available on Web  

Brooklyn, NY (May 1, 2019) - - - To help lodging companies facing different laws about human trafficking in different states, ECPAT-USA, with the financial support of the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Foundation (AHLEF), today issued a report detailing what each state requires and providing materials to comply with the laws. The report, “Unpacking Human Trafficking A Survey of State Laws Targeting Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry”, and all necessary materials are now available on the ECPAT-USA website.

 “We know that the hospitality industry is eager to help fight human trafficking, but the many different state laws makes that complicated. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for every company in the hospitality industry to comply with the growing number of state laws by giving them one place to find out what is required in each state and to find the materials they need,” said Michelle Guelbart, Director of Private Sector Engagement at ECPAT-USA.

“Human trafficking is a serious, international issue, and our industry, along with others in the travel and tourism industries have an important role to play in combating trafficking networks,” said AHLEF President Rosanna Maietta. “On behalf of the hotel industry and our member companies, AHLEF is committed to working with engaged partners like ECPAT-USA to support and fund research that can bring us closer to help end these heinous crimes.”

In recent years, an increasing number of states have passed laws requiring lodging facilities to display signage calling attention to the problem of human trafficking and alerting the public to the indications of trafficking, the hotline number to report suspicious activity, and services for victims. These laws take various forms and present a sometimes-confusing array of requirements that present a challenge to owners and operators of lodging facilities seeking to satisfy them. 

Similarly, a number of states have enacted legislation requiring lodging facilities to arrange for their employees to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking and what actions to take in the event that such signs are observed. Other states do not mandate the training but have made it available on a public agency website. Additional states are currently considering similar legislation. Thus, it is safe to predict that the number of states mandating such training will continue to grow.

To help clarify the situation and facilitate legal compliance, ECPAT-USA, with the support of AHLEF, unpacked these laws by preparing a survey of all the applicable state laws currently in effect. The survey will be updated on a semi-annual basis to keep up with the constantly changing laws.

Posters that comply with the various laws, as well as additional resources for hospitality brands, management companies, and properties are available on ECPAT-USA’s website at For states that do not have a human trafficking awareness signage requirement, ECPAT-USA’s Standard Hotel Poster can be utilized.


13 states have laws mandating human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities:

California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia

7 states have laws mandating human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities that have been cited as a public nuisance:

Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island

12 states have voluntary human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities:

Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

14 states have penalties for failing to meet the human trafficking awareness signage mandates:

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina

4 states have statutes mandating training regarding human trafficking for individuals working in the lodging industry:

California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey

11 states have voluntary training laws for individuals working in the lodging industry:

Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont

In addition to state laws, there are various agency and municipal regulations, which are beyond the scope of this project. Interested parties should contact their local lodging and hotel association, chamber of commerce or governmental agencies familiar with regulations in local jurisdictions.

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ECPAT-USA is the leading policy organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial, sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of the ECPAT International network, with offices in 95 countries.



AHLEF is the hospitality industry’s philanthropic organization, dedicated to helping people build careers that improve their lives and strengthen the lodging industry. Created in 1953, AHLEF initially focused on providing scholarships to a small group of promising hospitality students. Since that time, the Foundation has taken on a much greater mandate: ensuring a strong and viable future for the entire lodging industry. Underscoring the industry’s stories of opportunity, growth, and success, AHLEF priorities include scholarships, research and career development programs.

Are The Links Between Foster Care And Trafficking A Fixed Reality?

Foster care is sometimes unavoidable. But in cases where there is an option for children to stay with their families, that may be the better choice. Foster care, argues author Christian O’Neill in his new paper, “From Foster Care to Trafficking: An Analysis of Contributing Factors,” can make children more vulnerable to sex traffickers.

“The question it seems everyone wants to ask is: How can we better safeguard children in foster care from villainous traffickers.” he writes.

“Perhaps instead we should be asking, What if we redirected the majority of our efforts away from out-of-home care and toward preventive, family-preservation services? Because the reality is that most parents charged with neglect do not desire to hurt their children; they may be desperate and stressed, but they are rarely malicious. Child traffickers, however, are.”

Previous research (though not enough) shows that involvement in the child welfare system makes children more vulnerable to exploitation. A report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 estimated that 85% of commercially sexually exploited girls had a history with the child welfare system. In 2013, the FBI reported that 60% of children recovered from commercial sexual exploitation had been a part of out-of- family care in some capacity.

O’Neill, who was a child welfare worker for more than two decades, saw first-hand how the system not only failed at times to secure children from trauma, but also inflicted its own emotional and mental wounds. Being separated from their parents is a heartbreaking process for children. It can be traumatizing for them to be removed from their homes and familiar environment and assigned to live with strangers. Sometimes there is no viable parent. But in other cases a decision to separate children from their families is based on a vague finding of “neglect,” a broad and subjective category that allows race- and class-based biases to influence the decision to remove a child from their home. Then the instability of the foster care system itself, which can lead to multiple placements, means minors can grow up without the security and care they need. The resulting psychological and emotional vulnerabilities are exploited by traffickers.

The process of being frequently uprooted can disrupt kids’ academic and social progress, leaving them with few job skills. As the opioid crisis has put more pressure on families, the child welfare system in some states has been overwhelmed, and foster children have fallen through the cracks.

Often feeling like the system strips them of their agency, many foster children run away from placement. Case workers are sometimes unmotivated to search for runaway foster children due to a lack of resources and the assumption that they don’t want to be found anyway. Children become homeless, a key risk factor for trafficking. And knowing caseworkers aren’t actively searching for these children only emboldens traffickers.

Finally, O’Neill says there is a pernicious financial link between foster care and trafficking. The financial support that foster parents receive from the government to care for children can leave foster children feeling objectified and monetized. Being “monetized” by a trafficker may feel not much different. One survivor of sexual exploitation, Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, who is quoted in O’Neill’s paper, testified that youth’s experience in the foster care system normalizes “being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us…

“Therefore,” she said, “when youth are approached by traffickers...they don’t see much difference between their purpose of bringing finances into their foster home and bringing money to traffickers.”

O’Neill urges rethinking child welfare policies to increase and reallocate resources from out-of-home care to family-preservation services. Such a shift, he believes, could help strengthen families and build children’s defenses against trafficking. And see his insightful recommendations for the many individuals who have roles within the child welfare institution, including caseworkers, clinicians, communities and policy makers.

No Vacancy: How You Can Fight Child Sex Trafficking On Your Next Trip

In recent years buying fair trade coffee and clothing has become mainstream but something we at ECPAT-USA have noticed is that we never hear our friends say they are traveling responsibly. The concept of responsible travel is similar to that of purchasing fair trade goods— you choose to spend your money ethically and with respect for human rights.

Choosing a hotel is an opportunity to use your purchasing power for good—to help stop child sex trafficking.

Last week, ECPAT-USA released a report, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, which shows the extent and impact of our training efforts. Over the next few weeks, we will share a series of blogs that will teach you about the issue, highlight stakeholders who can help fight child sex trafficking, and give you ideas from the report for how to get involved. Later this week we will be highlighting hotels, and the steps they can take to combat this scourge. In this  we’ll give you tips for how to be a more responsible traveler!

While child sex trafficking may seem like a crime that happens in far away places, it happens more than you think throughout the United States.

With the use of online classified ads, child sex trafficking is not only on the streets, but also behind the closed doors of local hotel rooms. Pimps rent rooms in hotels, then go online to create an ad in adult sexual services pages, and finally sell victims right out of the hotel or have victims meet purchasers at nearby hotels.  

While the hospitality industry is not responsible for trafficking, it does have an important role to play in helping to stop it.

Hotel rooms are a preferred venue for the sale of children because traffickers believe they are anonymous at hotels, giving them a sense that there is little risk in their behavior. For this reason, hotel associates are more likely to witness trafficking than the average person. In response, we ask hotels to train their associates on the indicators of trafficking and how to respond to it.

Many hotels are doing just that. The report we released last week, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, shows that half of all hotels in the United States have had training for their associates. It also lists which hotels in the U.S. have signed ECPAT’s Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, a set of guidelines travel companies, including hotels, agree to take to combat child sex trafficking; one of those steps is providing training.


One hotel brand leading the way on training is Marriott. Marriott requires associates at all the properties in their portfolio to take human rights training that covers trafficking, which is a step beyond some hotels that just recommend training.

Accor Hotels, another ECPAT-USA partner, has taken an innovative approach on this issue by tying bonuses for their managers to training. Accor managers must have held anti-trafficking training at their properties to get their bonuses. Numerous other hotels are implementing their own initiatives.

On your next trip, stay at one of these hotels.

By choosing to stay at a hotel that has employees trained to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children, you can feel good knowing that you’re supporting businesses taking a stand, and real steps, against child sex trafficking.

Or, if your favorite hotel has not signed The Code, use this letter to ask them to sign.

Every child has a right to grow up free from sexual exploitation and trafficking, and you can help by spending your travel dollars at a hotel working on this issue.

To learn more about traveling responsibly, read our full report and visit our responsible traveler page.

Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Why it’s important to study how many hotels have anti-trafficking training

By Michelle Guelbart, MSW, and Julia Wejchert


When ECPAT-USA started working with hotels to combat child sex trafficking 13 years ago, very few people understood the urgency of our work. We knew that victims are often isolated from their friends, family, and community members, and we also knew that the hospitality industry is one of few industries in a unique position to recognize and identify victims. Unfortunately, our outreach to hotels was often met with shock and denial. We heard hotel after hotel respond that this may be happening but “not in my hotel.”

As we made progress with the general public through awareness campaigns and outreach, we also worked with hotel brands to implement policies and training to begin alerting hospitality associates of their unique role in stopping human trafficking. Slowly things began to change and we reached a turning point. Corporate policies against human trafficking and child exploitation are touted as industry standard. Training (even mandated) is now recognized as best practice. Many hotels train their associates to recognize the indicators of child sex trafficking and respond appropriately. But until now, no one knew exactly how many hotels had training.

The report we released today, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, provides exactly that information. It is the first of its kind, providing data from hotel properties across the United States about their training. Specifically, it shows that half of all hotels in the United States have had training for their associates. It also reports that over 80% of hotel associates who had training had increased awareness of child sex trafficking, and over 90% of managers with training who said they had increased knowledge in the past 3 years said the increase was a result of their training.

Another question this report answers is “where is anti-trafficking training coming from?” The results show that at least 35% of hotels with training were using programming  developed by ECPAT-USA. 

Additionally, most training, whether it was developed by ECPAT-USA or someone else, was distributed by hotel brands. This means that individual hotel properties usually use training they get from their parent companies like Hilton, Hyatt, or Wyndham. Therefore, when a hotel brand decides to take on an issue, it can be life changing and far reaching. And in the case of human trafficking awareness training, it can be life saving.

This training is so important because hotel rooms are used by pimps for child sex trafficking. An issue that was previously confined to the streets has now, with the use of online classified ads, also moved to the Internet and behind the closed doors of hotels rooms. Pimps rent rooms in hotels, then go online to create advertisements in adult sexual services pages, and finally sell victims in hotels or have victims meet purchasers at nearby hotels.

While the hospitality industry is not responsible for the exploitation, it does have an important role to play in helping to stop it. By training their associates to recognize indicators and providing a clear, safe response procedure hotel staff can follow if they do see something suspicious, hotels can help to protect children from exploitation.

While the report shows exciting progress in this area, there is still work to be done.

That half of U.S. hotels report using training is a significant achievement, but the other half of hotels still need to be reached. Additionally, the findings in our report suggest that some properties who have access to trainings through ECPAT-USA partnerships are not taking full advantage of training opportunities. While many are utilizing ECPAT-USA training, we must continue to work to ensure that all hotel associates have access to such important programming. 

In the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blog posts about what travelers, the hotel industry, and governments can do to continue the fight against child sex trafficking. Together we can ensure that no child is bought or sold.

ECPAT-USA Releases “No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers Impact Report”

Brooklyn, NY (Sept. 26, 2017) – ECPAT-USA released a report today: “No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers Impact Report: The Efficacy of ECPAT-USA’s Work to Prevent and Disrupt the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Hotels.” The report details the results of ECPAT-USA’s work with the travel and tourism industry to protect children from sex trafficking.

The first of it’s kind, the report shows what percentage of hotels in the United States have anti-trafficking training for their associates. Based on the findings of an evaluation study conducted by the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the report shows that half of all hotels in the U.S. have training about how to prevent and disrupt child sex trafficking and at least 35% of those have ECPAT-USA training, but there is still more work to be done.

“We are so proud of the progress that has been made with the hospitality industry but progress must continue,” said Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA and co-author of the report. “Hotels must mandate training across the board and ensure that this issue is institutionalized through new hire training.”

ECPAT-USA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a world where no child is bought, sold or used for sex. The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 21 million people around the world are trapped in modern day slavery. Youth are strategically targeted and manipulated by pimps who use hotel rooms as venues to abuse children, believing that systems are not in place to protect the victims. With the use of online classified ads, child trafficking is both on the streets and behind the closed doors of local hotel rooms.

ECPAT-USA released the report, which was co-authored by ECPAT-USA’s private sector engagement associate, Julia Wejchert, at a panel event at the Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission. Carol Smolenski, ECPAT-USA’s executive director moderated the panel. Speakers included Michelle Guelbart, MSW, director of private sector engagement at ECPAT-USA and one of the report’s authors, Craig Kalkut, VP, government affairs at American Hotel and Lodging Association, Katrina Owens, survivor and founder of MPower Mentoring, and Faith Taylor, SVP, global corporate social responsibility at Wyndham Worldwide. The panel was co-sponsored by the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons, The Salvation Army, and the UN Presbyterian Office.

To read the report, visit