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Commercial Sexual Exploitation Victims Treated as Offenders: Examining the Gendered Risk Factors of Incarcerated Youth Charged with Prostitution

NCJ Number
Victims & Offenders Volume: 18 Dated: 2023 Pages: 543-571
Date Published

This article reports on a research study that had the goal of describing the characteristics and risk factors of justice-involved youth charged with prostitution in the United States with attention to the gender-based differences in those risk factors.


Minors under the age of 18 involved in prostitution, or commercial sex acts, are defined as victims by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. However, state and local justice systems continued to arrest and incarcerate minors for prostitution after the passage of the TVPA despite widespread agreement that youth involved in commercial sexual exploitation are victims, not offenders. Most youth charged with prostitution have an extensive history of victimization experiences and detaining them often exacerbates their problems, delays appropriate therapeutic responses, interrupts their education, exposes them to youth who commit more serious offenses, and increases justice system costs. The purpose of this study is to describe the characteristics and risk factors (e.g., victimization histories, drug/alcohol use, gang involvement, home type) of justice-involved youth charged with prostitution in the United States. Given that males and females have different pathways to crime/arrest, this study will also test for gender differences in these risk factors using a nationally representative sample of incarcerated youth (Survey of Youth in Residential Placement; Sedlak, 2003). Results indicate this population of incarcerated youth have several risk factors, including extensive victimization experiences during childhood, and that these experiences vary by gender. I conclude with the implications of this research and give several policy and future research recommendation. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023