By Danielle Capra, LCSW

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, or CSEC, is one form of child sexual abuse that is often misunderstood. CSEC refers to crimes where individuals buy, trade, or sell sexual acts with a child.

At JCCA’s Center for Healing in Pleasantville, we provide trauma-informed services to children who are survivors of sexual abuse and CSEC. As Director of the Center for Healing, I see firsthand how harmful misconceptions around this difficult issue can be. By dispelling these myths, we can help to increase awareness and, in turn, potentially identify or prevent this form of abuse.

Misconception #1: Commercial sexual exploitation of children does not happen in the United States. Unfortunately, CSEC occurs everywhere, even in New York City, suburbs, and smaller towns. Given the complexities of collecting accurate data and underreporting of CSEC, we do not fully understand its scale, but it does happen domestically.

Misconception #2: Only girls can experience CSEC. While most of our program participants are girls, we also see male survivors. Cases involving boys are more likely to go unreported, as warning signs may be missed, or they may be less likely to come forward due to shame or stigma.

Misconception #3: Individuals in actively abusive situations always seek or want help. Kids are socialized to be compliant with adults, and abusers often use tactics such as force, threat, and coercion to gain loyalty and instill fear in young people to keep them from leaving or disclosing their situation. These are complex dynamics to untangle, especially if the abuser meets the young person’s basic needs, such as food and shelter.

Misconception #4: Abusers always target people they don’t know. It is far more common for children to be groomed and recruited by those closest to them: a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” a relative, or a friend.

CSEC is often a hidden crime, and survivors may fear coming forward. Understanding the truth behind this form of abuse is a crucial step toward identification and prevention.

To report suspected child abuse, call 311 in New York City or the New York State Central Register at 1-800-342-3720. Anyone can report and may do so anonymously. If you or a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

Danielle Capra, LCSW is the Director of JCCA’s Center for Healing. She received her BA from Coastal Carolina University and her MSW from New York University. She authored a workbook that helps children who have been trafficked understand their trauma while aiding them on the journey from victim to survivor.