Family-Controlled Trafficking in the United States: Victim Characteristics, System Response, and Case Outcomes

Emily E. Edwards, Jennifer S. Middleton, Jennifer Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Though limited research has explored trafficker relationships involving family members as perpetrators, it is well documented that some victims of child trafficking are exploited by a family member or by a non-relative facilitated by a family member. This study utilized administrative data from the United States’ Kentucky child welfare system to examine how victim characteristics, case factors, system responses, and case outcomes are related to whether a child is trafficked by a family member perpetrator versus non-relative (only) perpetrator. Analyses were based on 698 alleged victims of child trafficking reported between 2013 and 2017. Findings suggest that victims of family-controlled trafficking were more likely to have a higher number of perpetrators, live in rural communities, and be younger. Further, instances of family-controlled trafficking were found to be more likely reported by anonymous, non-relative community members, and relative reporting parties compared to reporting parties of professionals, law enforcement, courts, and juvenile justice, as reflected in previous literature. Important findings revealed that having a family member involved as the perpetrator of trafficking predicted that the case would not be substantiated and/or founded, compared to cases not involving a family member. Implications for future research regarding the dynamics of family-controlled trafficking cases are discussed. Findings suggest opportunities for enhanced practice, training, and capacity-building in rural communities. To make a significant impact on the reduction of family-controlled trafficking, this study sheds light on the need for enforced penalties for family members as traffickers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-429
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Human Trafficking
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Taylor & Francis.


  • Child trafficking
  • familial trafficking
  • family-controlled trafficking
  • sex trafficking
  • trauma
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Anthropology
  • Transportation
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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