BACKGROUND: Research has documented many risk factors for commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as serious emotional and behavioral consequences for such victims.
Objective: This study aims to provide an understanding of risk factors and symptom presentation of girls who are victims or at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
PARTICIPANTS AND setting: Ninety-six girls (12–18 years) who were referred to a child advocacy center’s specialized treatment program for commercially sexually abused girls served as parti- cipants (56 conﬁrmed victims, 40 at risk of commercial sexual exploitation).
Methods: At intake participants were administered the Youth Self-Report, the TRAUMA Symptom Checklist for Children, and the UCLA POST-TRAUMATIC Stress (PTSD) REACTION Index for DSM -5. Parents or guardians were asked to complete the Child BEHAVIOR Checklist and the UCLA PTSD REACTION Index for DSM – 5(PARENT/CAREGIVER).
Results: Intake information revealed signiﬁcant diﬀerences between groups with conﬁrmed victims reporting higher levels of sex work, kidnapping, physical abuse, physical assault and sexual abuse by a non-family member (p < .05) than at risk victims. All participants were ex- posed to traumas, were racially and ethnically diverse and lived primarily with their families. At risk girls were signiﬁcantly more likely to be in school than the conﬁrmed victims. The UCLA PTSD Index revealed that the conﬁrmed victims had experienced signiﬁcantly more physical abuse than the at-risk group and 26.7% of conﬁrmed victims and 7.7% of the at risk victims met the DSM criteria for PTSD. Twenty percent of the conﬁrmed victims met criteria for Dissociative subtype, while only 7.7% of at risk victims did. On the CBCL, victims from both groups scored in the clinical range on Externalizing Problems and Total Problems and the at risk group scored signiﬁcantly higher on the School subscale than the conﬁrmed victims group.
Conclusion: Commercially sexually exploited girls have experienced multiple traumas in their lives and display emotional and behavioral diﬃculties. Early detection of girls who may be at risk for sexual exploitation may allow for prevention and intervention as these girls also have trau- matic backgrounds and display similar symptoms.
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