Risk and protective factors in commercially sexually exploited females



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The commercial sexual exploitation of female minors is a problem that continues to grow domestically in the United States. Although pathways into exploitation as a minor have been addressed in the current literature, little is known about how to best meet the needs of this elusive and vulnerable population. This dissertation attempted to inform treatment, intervention, and policy for commercially sexually exploited females. The sample consisted of 160 mostly African-American females currently identified as being commercially sexually exploited. Data from the Child Adolescent Needs and Strengths for Commercial Sexual Exploitation version 1.3 were collected by service providers during a initial assessment for mental health and case management services. Resiliency Theory and the Transactional Stages of Change were used to conceptualize risk and resilience for this sample. This study addressed three specific aims. The first described demographics, individual strengths, environmental strengths, and mental health needs of this sample. The second used path analysis to analyze hypothesized relations between risk variables including caregiver risks, abuse history, and living instability, on the outcome variables of mental health symptoms, environmental strengths and individual strengths. The third aim used path analysis to explore hypothesized relations among strength variables, Stockholm Syndrome and exit variables. Two models in aim three explored the outcome variables of exit time and stage of readiness. Results indicated that cultural identity was the greatest individual strength and that the greatest environmental strength was attitude toward education. Adjustment to trauma and depression were rated as the greatest mental health needs for this sample. Age, caregiver risk and abuse history significantly predicted mental health symptoms. Caregiver risk significantly predicted fewer individual and environmental strengths. No variables were found to predict exit time or stage of readiness. However, paths from environmental strengths to Stockholm Syndrome and age of exploitation onset to Stockholm Syndrome were significant in both the exit time and stage of readiness models. These findings suggest the importance of early identification and prevention, and provide support for the construct of Stockholm Syndrome in describing and understanding the exit process. Additional treatment implications are discussed.