Research Roundup: Responses to Youth Sex Trafficking in Different Areas

A young woman wearing smudged makeup.

Last month we summarized research addressing the whys and hows of trafficking. Here we ask, “Where?” Several studies in the Journal of Applied Research on Children examine the pathways that lead to sex trafficking and what can be done to prevent and address it for youth in cities bordering Mexico, small cities, and in large metropolitan areas such as Boston.

Pathways Into Sex Trafficking for Teens in U.S.-Mexican Border Cities

Researcher Argentina E. Servin and her colleagues examined what puts young people most at risk for sex trafficking in two Mexican-U.S. border cities. The researchers interviewed 20 women who had entered sex trafficking as children or teenagers. Sixty percent of respondents had been coerced into the sex trade. Family dysfunction (such as parental drug use or neglect), physical and sexual abuse, and economic need due to teen pregnancy were themes in the women’s stories about how they were trafficked.

The authors say no one specific type of vulnerability leads to sex trafficking. Rather, young women experience a combination of factors that creates pathways to becoming trafficked for sex at a young age. For participants of this study, early physical and sexual abuse led to running away from home, dropping out of school, and homelessness. Then, lack of social support made the girls vulnerable to sex trafficking. 

Collaborative Models in Small Cities

A 15-year-old girl, neglected by her biological parents and sexually and emotionally abused by her adoptive parents, ran away and was arrested for sex trafficking. She is the subject of one of two case studies researcher Mary Burke and her colleagues describe. The researchers use the case studies to illustrate how in small cities, community agencies have gotten together to serve youth involved with sex trafficking.

The arresting officer, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Trafficking Coalition in Pittsburgh, PA, referred the young woman to a victim specialist who provided crisis intervention. The specialist also accompanied the young survivor to medical appointments, provided food and clothing, aided her with transportation, and helped her find employment. A team approach among coalition members was critical to the young woman's recovery, the authors write. All cases are unique, they say, and treatment needs vary for victims of sex trafficking--including youth who have also been involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Collaboration among community agencies can help victims get all the services they need.

Collaboration and Training Needed in the Boston Area

Is the collaborative model also being used in big cities? Researcher Wendy L. Macias-Konstantopoulos and her colleagues interviewed 25 key informants that included social service providers, health care providers, law enforcement agents, and legal advocates in the Boston area. The researchers wanted to find out how providers perceive and respond to sex trafficking of youth. Macia-Konstantopoulos et al. also wanted to identify opportunities for improving services.

In this study, the research team found gaps in the health sector response to sex trafficking, low awareness of the issue among health care providers in Boston, and no citywide coordinated system of care. The authors suggest that Boston and similar areas need to pay greater attention to training health care providers on trauma-sensitive care for this population. Cities also need to coordinate the activities of health and social service organizations more closely so that youth involved in sex trafficking can be identified and served, the authors say.

Read the Articles

Vulnerability Factors and Pathways Leading to Underage Entry into Sex Work in two Mexican-US Border Cities (abstract). Argentina E. Servin, Kimberly C. Brouwer, Leah Gordon, Teresita Rocha-Jimenez, Hugo Staines, Ricardo B. Vera-Monroy, Steffanie A. Strathdee, and Jay G. Silverman. Journal of Applied Research on Children, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2015.

Implementing a Coordinated Care Model for Sex Trafficked Minors in Smaller Cities (abstract). Mary Burke, Heather L. McCauley, Anne Rackow, Bradley Orsini, Bridget Simunovic, and Elizabeth Miller. Journal of Applied Research on Children, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2015.

The Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the Boston Metropolitan Area: Experiences and Challenges Faced by Front-Line Providers and Other Stakeholders (abstract). Wendy L. Macias-Konstantopoulos, Deanne Munroe, Genevieve Purcell, Kristina Tester, Thomas F. Burke, and Roy Ahn. Journal of Applied Research on Children, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2015.

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