Future of Sex-Trafficked Youth


Many people hear the term “sex trafficking” and think of Third World countries. But youth all over the United States—including the Lehigh Valley—become victims of sexual slavery every day.

“Our research in a local county prison revealed that 50 percent of the women inmates had a history of sex trafficking, and one-third of these exploitations took place before the age of 18,” says Amanda Eckhardt, Ph.D., professor of practice of education and human services.

Eckhardt and her research team also found 100 percent of women with a history of sex trafficking needed housing, and 62 percent requested mental health counseling.

So together with the organization Valley Against Sex Trafficking (VAST), Eckhardt has set out to understand both the prevalence of sex trafficking in the Lehigh Valley and to increase local organizations’ awareness, knowledge, and skills in sex trafficking provisions.

“From my perspective, a critical component to aftercare for sex trafficking survivors is this awareness,” she says. In addition to spreading the word, Eckhardt and others in the College of Education at Lehigh are learning how to best care for local sex trafficking victims. Approximately 15 percent of counseling students (both masters and doctoral) have attended local sex trafficking service trainings within the past two years.

“These trained counselors know the right questions to ask of young people, as well as the red flags to look for in youth at risk for sex trafficking, such as frequent truancy, lack of parental responsiveness, and malnourishment,” Eckhardt says.

The lack of parental support Eckhardt points to is a major risk factor for sex trafficking in the first place. “One out of every three young people is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away from home, and unfortunately, even in the Lehigh Valley, some parents pimp out and exploit their children,” she says.

“So I believe a great focus of our work, both prevention and intervention, must be family-based.”

To come at the problem from all angles, together with organizations like VAST, Truth for Women, and Crime Victims Council, Eckhardt is working to provide the most effective support for victims. “This holistic therapy is essential to the well-being of youth who have been sex trafficked,” she says.