But the federal law also gave a new definition of sex trafficking: "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age." The law states that coercion includes threats of physical or psychological harm to children, and that any person under age 18 induced to participate in commercial sex is a sex-trafficking victim.
The all-encompassing definition of victimhood, say social workers and advocates, is important because it doesn't matter how or why young women first begin "working" in prostitution. Often, girls who end up in prostitution are already vulnerable – they are abuse victims, come from unstable homes, have run away, or suffer mental impairments. Others are simply naive, susceptible to manipulation of a pimp, who often pretends at first to be a boyfriend.
"Pimps are professional exploiters," says Ms. Powell of FAIR Girls. "They know how to find their product, i.e., a young girl, and they know how to sell [her]. And girls are very easily lured if they are at risk. They're looking for love and attention and pimps know that."
Once girls have started working with a pimp, advocates say, they often feel trapped. They can be beaten, raped, or threatened with violence if they try to leave; they can simply feel they have nowhere else to go. But never, advocates say, are they wanting to be sold for sex to dozens of clients a night.
"A lot of people are calling sex trafficking 'modern-day slavery,' " says Megan Fowler, director of communications for the Polaris Project, a US anti-trafficking organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hot line. "But it's not that physical chained-in-the-basement coercion. It's psychological coercion."