Sex trafficking — or the commercial exploitation of individuals for sexual purposes as well as the actual buying and selling of them — is actually a booming business right here in U.S. cities, towns, and suburbs across America. Increasingly, it includes vulnerable minors who are lured through social media and the Internet.

In the U.S., girls as young as 8 are being exploited for sex, while age 14 is the average.

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In 2014, there were 3,600 reports of sex-trafficking, and those are just the instances that were reported. In Denver, Colorado, more than 250 juveniles have been freed from sex rings in the past three years. In the U.S., girls as young as 8 are being exploited for sex, while age 14 is the average, according to Wellspringliving.com.

In the Denver area, law enforcement is seeing drug dealers moving into the sex trade.

“You can sell drugs one time and that product is out the door, but you can sell a human being time and time again,” Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Katie Kurtz told 9news.com.

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In American apartments and hotel rooms, at workplaces and online, children, teens, and young adults are victims of human trafficking by those who exploit family hardships, the need for money, and even a victim’s loneliness. Traffickers operate in an underground world of forced sex and slavery, buying and selling minors as if they were cattle.

The FBI’s website profiles a young woman named Alexandria who was eventually rescued from trafficking by that agency. Originally, Alexandria fled her home due to family problems, but immediately crashed into a harsh reality.

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“You learn that your parents are really the only ones willing to feed you, clothe you, shelter you,” she says on video.

Children, teens, and young adults are victims of human trafficking by those who exploit family hardships, the need for money, and even a victim’s loneliness.

Soon, a sex trafficker offered her food and shelter, and she was sold for sex in return.

“At first it was terrifying, but then, you just become numb to it,” she said.

The Internet has ushered in a new era of prostitution, offering an unlimited virtual bulletin board for both recruitment and advertisement of enslaved girls. Instead of walking the streets, girls are now sold online.

“Trafficking is now second only to drugs in terms of major issues the U.S. faces,” said Mary Frances Bowley, founder and chief strategic officer of Wellspring Living, a community that shelters and rehabilitates girls and young women saved from sex trafficking. “And the Internet has added yet another doorway for criminals to commit this activity. Social media is also a tool for selling human beings. This is an extremely lucrative business, with its own organizational hierarchy.”

One American sex trafficker outlined his modus operandi in a legal document.

“If you want them young, normally those we have to take by force,” said Kery Rodriguez, a heroin trafficker who also trafficked girls, according to an affidavit obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. “The key is to keep them drugged, and locked up, and have (them) at gunpoint.”

Trafficking victims are no longer confined to runaways, foster kids, or children who have been abandoned by their families. Many of them are from intact families, lured away by clever pimps of the modern age who are skilled at manipulating children.

Predators are particularly adept at reading children, at reading kids, and at knowing their vulnerabilities.

“These predators are particularly adept at reading children, at reading kids, and knowing their vulnerabilities,” FBI Deputy Assistant Director Chip Burrus, who started the Lost Innocence project, told ABC News.

What is being done nationally to combat this crime against children, both boys and girls, perpetrated by both men and women?

Related: How to Spot a Sex-Trafficking Victim

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security launched the “Blue Campaign, unifying DHS components to more effectively combat human trafficking through enhanced public awareness, training, victim assistance, and law enforcement investigations,” according to its website.

While local and state law enforcement teams track potential predators, grassroots and nonprofit organizations reach out to victims, who often suffer long-term damage from their ordeal.

Psychologist Shaelyn Pham said the mental fallout from enslavement and trafficking is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When a young girl is being used for sex or forced into the sex-trafficking industry, the child is not only exposed to it once but repeatedly, on a daily basis,” she told LifeZette.

“The repeated traumatic exposure is similar to a soldier who is out in the battlefield every single day,” Pham said. “When a soldier signs up for the military, at least he or she knows what they signed up for (even though they may never really be prepared for what they will witness or go through out in the battlefield). These girls don’t have that choice — or at least feel that they do not have that choice, for various reasons.”

The mental fallout from enslavement and trafficking is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wellspring Living’s Bowley, who works with trafficking victims every day, told LifeZette, “We treated our first victim in 2001. Back then, there were not many people working in this field. Homelessness and poverty were on the national agenda in those days.”

Since 2011, domestic sex trafficking has exploded, and Bowley said recovery is a complicated process.

“Even the girls who have been victims sometimes do not self-identify as such,” she said. “It’s a form of Stockholm syndrome — identifying with your abuser.”

“What we really want people to know is that these victims are smart, incredibly resilient women,” Bowley said.

As far as steps to recovery go, Wellspring offers victims a residential home and individual apartments, as well as an assessment center.

“Meet the girls where they are, emotionally. Build trust. Introduce a peer mentor, someone who understands the unique trauma,” Bowley said. “Help the victim to learn to make choices for herself; help her learn she has a voice of her own.”

“What this (trafficking) does to one’s self-esteem and self-worth is unfathomable,” Pham said. “Victims lose their sense of self — who they are as a human being.”