Facts for Policymakers: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth

A brief from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network aims to give policymakers updated information and perspectives about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents (CSEC). Based on a recent journal article, the brief looks at current findings and offers suggestions that could improve screening and treatment protocols for exploited youth.

CSEC includes the exploitation of youth and children in prostitution or other sexual activities that are controlled by a pimp, including massage parlors, strip clubs or through the Internet, among others.

Sometimes called “sex trafficking of minors,” CSEC is difficult to track, with different methodologies and definitions obscuring the true number of youth who have been sexually exploited.

However, the literature suggests several facts that can help policymakers deal with the needs of exploited youth. Most CSEC-involved youth have a history in the child-welfare system, often as a result of exposure to sexual abuse. These youth are also highly likely to be involved either with the adult- or juvenile-justice systems because of their exploitation. Recent research has documented the health impact of CSEC involvement. Such exploitation is linked to complex trauma that includes post­traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distrust of others, increased risk of suicide, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, among other serious issues. These youth may also be bearing the strain of significant psychological trauma as a result of their sexual exploitation.

Identifying youth exploited through commercial sex through better screening tools can help match them to appropriate services and resources. More efforts should be made to regularly screen youth in child welfare, juvenile justice, emergen­cy medical care, and substance abuse treatment/ recovery group settings. Sexually expoited youth frequently use alcohol and drugs as a way to deal with the trauma that comes as a result of commercial sexual exploitation and abuse.

Though some good screening and inventory tools aimed at sexually exploited youth have been developed, the need for clinicians to establish a good rapport with these youth is extremely important and may lead to more effective screening. These youth are an extremely challenging group to work with, but social workers, clinicians and service providers can be most effective by being sensitive to the impact of complex trauma on these youth, including avoiding situations that can trigger memories of prior sexual abuse and exploitation.

To read the brief, click here.

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 124 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.