Community Resources

Child Abuse + Neglect

Assessing Exploitation Experiences in Girls + Boys Seen at a Child Advocacy Center


The primary aim of this study was to describe the abuse experiences of sexually exploited runaway adolescents seen at a Child Advocacy Center (N = 62). We also sought to identify risk behaviors, attributes of resiliency, laboratory results for sexually transmitted infection (STI) screens, and genital injuries from colposcopic exams. We used retrospective mixed-methods with in-depth forensic interviews, together with self-report survey responses, physical exams and chart data. Forensic interviews were analyzed using inter-pretive description analytical methods along domains of experience and meaning of sexual exploitation events. Univariate descriptive statistics characterized trauma responses and health risks. The first sexual exploitation events for many victims occurred as part of seemingly random encounters with procurers. Older adolescent or adult women recruited some youth working for a pimp. However, half the youth did not report a trafficker involved insetting up their exchange of sex for money, substances, or other types of consideration. 78%scored positive on the UCLA PTSD tool; 57% reported DSM IV criteria for problem substance use; 71% reported cutting behaviors, 75% suicidal ideation, and 50% had attempted suicide.Contrary to common depictions, youth may be solicited relatively quickly as runaways, yet exploitation is not always linked to having a pimp. Avoidant coping does not appear effective, as most patients exhibited significant symptoms of trauma. Awareness of variations in youth’s sexual exploitation experiences may help researchers and clinicians understand potential differences in sequelae, design effective treatment plans, and develop community prevention programs.