societal norms and expectations about sexual behavior and coercion, as well as societal and cultural standards and expectations regarding minors, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and power, also contribute to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. Adding to this complexity, each of these factors interacts within and across levels to increase risk or protection. Because of the multiple forces involved, prevention and intervention efforts targeting only single risks may have limited utility. Moreover, a comprehensive understanding of risk factors for commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors requires awareness that the processes associated with these problems, from beginning to end, are dynamic (see Figure 3-1).
The ecological model depicted in Figure 3-1 highlights the complex and interconnected forces that contribute to initial and continued commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. It should be noted, however, that the factors included in this schematic are likely only a subset of the risk factors for these problems. Moreover, some of those factors may be necessary but not sufficient contributors to the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. For example, the presence of risk factors would not result in the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors without the presence of an exploiter or trafficker. Of note, the contributing and maintaining factors depicted in Figure 3-1 may function independently or in combination. In addition, risk factors in one sphere may trigger a cascade of effects or initiate pathways into or out of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Because many of the factors in Figure 3-1 also may be risks for other types of adverse youth outcomes, readers are cautioned not to assume that the presence of any single risk factor necessarily signals commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. Instead, the presence of one or more of these factors should be considered as part of a more comprehensive assessment to determine youth at risk of or involved in commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Each domain included in Figure 3-1 is detailed in the following sections.
Risk Factors for Victims
At the individual level, a number of factors may increase boys’ and girls’ vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. These include sexual abuse, physical abuse, and other forms of maltreatment; disruptions in normative development; the experience of running away or being homeless or thrown away; being placed in foster care or otherwise systems involved; being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT); substance use/abuse; psychogenic factors and impaired cognitive