What We Do

What We Do


For more than two decades ECPAT-USA has been at the forefront of the fight to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. We go to the source of the problem by fighting for new and improved laws, encouraging the private sector to do its part, and raising awareness among those who may be in a position to identify a child who is being commercially sexually exploited.

Fighting to abolish the commercial sexual exploitation of children is a complex challenge. The criminals who exploit children for commercial gain use sophisticated methods that are changing all the time. They know how to entice children and then keep them in the shadows to be sold for sex. ECPAT-USA and its team of staff, board members, and volunteers work tirelessly to fight this inhumane and criminal activity at the source.

Advocate for Protective Laws and Policies

ECPAT has been at the forefront of the fight for legislation that will protect children who are commercially sexually exploited. The federal government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. The law states that a person under 18 who is induced to perform a commercial sex act is a victim of a severe form of trafficking (22 U.S.C. 7102), not a perpetrator of prostitution. We continue to seek improvements in federal laws and policies, drawing on our past success and our vast experience in knowing what works for child protection.

While there have been huge victories in federal laws, many state courts and police departments continue to treat underage victims as criminals. This may occur due to a lack of training, too few resources for victims, and misperceptions about the experience of children who are exploited in the sex trade. By turning child victims over to the juvenile justice system states perpetrate an endless cycle of arrest, detention, and abuse. In order to put an end to this cycle, ECPAT-USA fights for passage of “Safe Harbor” laws. These laws can:

  1. Correct the conflicts between federal and state law by exempting children from prosecution for prostitution.
  2. Require training for law enforcement and other first responders on how to identify and assist victims.
  3. Increase the penalties for traffickers and purchasers of sex.
  4. Prompt the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team to develop a statewide system of care.
ECPAT-USA provides guidance, policy recommendations, and advocacy support to organizations in states across the country to improve the legal and system response to exploitation. ECPAT-USA is proud to support the efforts of local partners who are leading the fight to protect the children in their state. We have been a part of successful efforts in 5 states that passed Safe Harbor laws. But there is much more to do. Find out about what your state has done to pass and implement a Safe Harbor law.

Promote Corporate Social Responsibility

In today’s world, child sex trafficking typically occurs off the streets, behind closed doors. Traffickers seek out vulnerable children who succumb to promises of love and support. These traffickers then place ads for the children in online classified ads. Victims live inside hotels, rarely leaving and often only to meet at other hotels, where they must engage in sex acts with buyers.
Because standard training does not address this issue, victims often go unnoticed and traffickers believe the travel industry is a risk-free, anonymous atmosphere for the sale of children. In some cases, children are transported around the country by airline, train, and bus, under the noses of unsuspecting travel industry personnel.

ECPAT-USA works with companies in the travel industry to implement programs and educate staff so that they can help identify victims and perpetrators and react appropriately.

ECPAT-USA encourages these companies to:

  1. Sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct

  2. The Code is an internationally recognized set of guidelines travel and tourism companies can sign to demonstrate their commitment to fighting the commercial sexual exploitation of children. ECPAT-USA creates individualized action plans for companies to address the issue in a way that fits their corporate structure and culture.

  3. Take an ECPAT-USA Training Course

  4. ECPAT-USA partnered with the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Educational Institute to co-launch an e-learning module on the issue.

    ECPAT-USA creates custom training courses for all types of industries. Staff can learn to identify possible victims as well as the proper procedure for responding to suspicious activity.

  5. Adopt an Official Policy Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

  6. Official policies send a zero-tolerance message to staff letting them know that they should not look away if they suspect trafficking. Staff will feel more empowered to react to their suspicions. The policy will also build a sense of pride in their company for being responsible. A sample policy is available.


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Combat International Child Sex Tourism

Child sex tourism is the sexual exploitation of a child by a person who engages in sexual activities with a child while traveling away from their own country or region. It usually involves some form of payment, either in cash or in kind. Perpetrators are often referred to as child sex tourists.

Quantifying the problem is difficult. Some numbers suggest that 25% of the travelers who sexually exploit children around the world are from the United States and Canada. Meanwhile more and more children are forced into the sex market every year, meeting the supply of sex tourists who feel they can better “get away with” exploiting a child in another country.

Why Do Tourists Sexually Exploit Children:

  • Lax Law Enforcement: Sex tourists assume that they can sexually abuse a child in another country without being caught or arrested.
  • Anonymity. Some tourists feel they can act in ways they would not consider in their own home, such as by visiting brothels in the first place.
  • Cultural ignorance. Some tourists believe it is culturally acceptable in some places to sexually exploit children.
  • Rationalization. Tourists tell themselves they are helping the poor children because they give them money for the sex acts they perform.
  • Sense of Superiority.. Some tourists believe themselves superior to the local population, because they have more money, are a different race, or come from a different culture. This leads them to believe that they can treat local children in ways they would never consider treating children in their own country.
  • Fear of AIDS. Younger, more innocent-looking children are in demand because of the perception that they are less likely to be infected with HIV or other STDs.

Who Are These Sex Tourists?

Child sex tourists fall into three broad categories:

  • Situational child sex abusers — people who may not have traveled with the intent to sexually exploit children, but just accepted an offer made or were influenced by peers, advertising or other media.
  • Preferential child sex abusers — people whose sexual activity focuses on young people under 18 years old.
  • Pedophiles — people with a diagnosable disorder that causes them to focus all of their sexual interest on pre-pubescent children.

The legitimate travel industry does not support commercial sexual exploitation of children. But its facilities may be used to that effect. There is a sex tourism industry that promotes sex tours to many destinations. They usually do not promote child sex tours, at least in the open, but travelers take these tours knowing that at the destination, anything goes.

Educate Communities and First Responders

Getting government involved is only a first step in combating the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), and just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean it gets enforced. Even when law enforcement is doing everything it can to combat the problem in a community, they can’t be everywhere all the time. This is why it’s important that community groups take up the cause of protecting the children in their neighborhoods. By educating community members and their children about the dangers of child sex trafficking everyone can be better equipped to protect the most vulnerable amongst us from being trafficked.

ECPAT-USA offers presentations, trainings, and other resources to law enforcement, first responders, community groups, teachers, and student groups that wish to learn more about the issue of the CSEC, including prevention, identification, available services, and resources for rehabilitation.

In Addition, ECPAT-USA:

  1. Develops videos that can be used by health care first responders, child protective services personnel, and legislators.
  2. Helps young persons become their own rights advocates.
  3. Sells ECPAT-USA luggage tags and key chains to raise awareness about child sex tourism.

To find out more about our outreach work and services, please contact info@ecpatsa.org