Childhood emotional maltreatment and the prevention of the commercial sexual exploitation of children
Hurst, Tamara Elizabeth
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Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a form of child abuse that involves the sexual use of a child under the age of 18, for an exchange of tangible or intangible goods. This study investigated the influence of childhood emotional maltreatment (CEM) as one area of the complicated issue of childhood vulnerability to recruitment into CSEC, with the goal of informing prevention efforts. CEM has undergone limited investigation with domestic samples of CSEC survivors thus, this study filled a distinct need in this body of empirical research. Using a mixed methods design, the study drew participants from multiple sampling techniques from across four geographic areas in the United States. All participants were adult, female CSEC survivors (N = 40), who were contacted through multiple avenues. Data were collected concurrently utilizing two multiple-choice instruments, the Vulnerability to CSEC Survey developed by the author, and the well-known Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, along with individual semi-structured interviews. Four exploratory research questions guided this study which explored: (i) the social demographics of the survivors/participants, (ii) their resulting influences on vulnerability to CSEC, (iii) experiences with childhood maltreatment, and (iv) themes related to CSEC prevention. Demographically, the sample was predominantly Black/African-American (62.5%, n = 25) or White/Caucasian (30.0%, n = 12), with an average age of 41.35 (SD = 10.08). These women entered sexually exploitive relationships at the median age of 13.13 (SD = 3.35). Main results were: (i) noted chronological age differentiations describing varying pathways into CSEC with younger victims more likely exploited by their families and adolescent/teens more likely exploited by their boyfriends, (ii) internalized racism noted within the African-American participants that seemed to increase vulnerability to CSEC, (iii) noted severe to extreme levels of multiple forms of child maltreatment including emotional abuse/neglect in 97.5% of the sample, and (iv) a lack of outreach/attention/understanding of these women by proximate helping professionals including law enforcement, teachers, and physicians, among others. Implications for social workers and other helping professionals, and as well as strategies for prevention, including education, training and policy recommendations are discussed.