Fighting Fire With Fire: Technology in Child Sex Trafficking

35 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2013 Last revised: 24 Jul 2014

See all articles by Mary Graw Leary

Mary Graw Leary

Catholic University of America (CUA)

Date Written: June 20, 2014


The scourge of child sex trafficking is as complex as it is alarming. It is speculated that the “Triple A Engine” effect of the Internet (Affordability, Access, and Anonymity) plays a role in the sex trafficking of children. For example, much media coverage and political action has recently taken place regarding online ad sites such as facilitating child sex trafficking. However, as with many aspects of child sex trafficking, obtaining actual measurements and hard data is challenging due to the nature of the crime, the lack of a uniform description, and inherent under-reporting. That is why Microsoft Corporation awarded a competitive grant for this article to study the effects of technology on child sex trafficking.

One format, where such crimes are often described in detail is that of judicial opinions. The passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, and its subsequent reauthorizations, has led to increased detection and prosecution of child sex trafficking on the federal level. The resulting body of judicial opinions is a potential wealth of information about current trends in the execution of the crime and detection by law enforcement.

This paper is a manifestation of a year of research in which researchers engaged in a comprehensive examination of available federal child sex trafficking opinions and press releases generated over the past twelve years. The research analyzed several hundred judicial opinions since the implementation of the TVPA to determine what, if any, trends could be observed. The paper is the first of a series to publish the results of this research, offering insight into the role of technology in the recruiting, advertising, selling, searching for, and purchasing of children for sex. This paper examines: (1) how traffickers use technology to advertise and sell child sex trafficking victims; (2) how purchasers of sex use technology to locate and complete the commercial transaction in buying a child for commercial sexual exploitation; and (3) how law enforcement use technology to detect and investigate child sex trafficking crimes. It offers important insight into technology’s role and critical evidence-based guidance for prevention and investigation of these cases. The article argues for altered prevention messaging and endorses proactive investigations which follow the guidelines suggested.

Keywords: child sex trafficking, domestic minor sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children, CSEC, exploitation, prostitution, child prostitution, juvenile prostitution, TVPA, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, technology, craigslist, backpage

Suggested Citation

Graw Leary, Mary, Fighting Fire With Fire: Technology in Child Sex Trafficking (June 20, 2014). Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2014, Available at SSRN: or

Mary Graw Leary (Contact Author)

Catholic University of America (CUA) ( email )

116 McMahon Hall
Washington, DC 20064
United States

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