Listening to Survivors: Building Mental Health Services for Women Affected by Commercial Sexual Exploitation through Psychology and Survivor Professional Collaborations

October 2018

In recent years, heightened attention has been paid to commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) in the United States but there is a dearth of specialized mental health services to support adult survivors. This gap has multiple causes. First, vulnerability to CSE is not only, or even primarily, psychological but also structural and social (e.g., economic and educational inequalities, systematic oppression). Second, no single agency or discipline can adequately address all service needs, and traditional mental health services are siloed and poorly tailored to this population. Third, psychology’s attention to this topic is relatively recent, and follows years of activism and service by survivor professionals. As academic interest in CSE expands, there is a risk that the knowledge of survivor professionals will be marginalized. Thus there is an urgent need for survivor professionals and mental health professionals to work together to reimagine appropriate clinical and social supports. To that end, this interdisciplinary meeting will convene three stake-holding groups: (1) professionals with expertise in CSE, (2) CSE survivor professionals who are advocates, activists and scholars, (3) researchers and clinicians who have developed services for populations with similar characteristics e.g., homelessness, addiction, intimate partner violence. The meeting will begin with a survivor-led discussion about effective mental health services and the components professionals have historically overlooked. Participants will then discuss ways to build services that are tailored to women’s sociocultural experiences and based on the integration of survivor knowledge, psychological science and innovative models of care delivery. Seminar outcomes include (1) the identification of principles for developing mental health services for adult survivors of CSE, and (2) the creation of a working group to publish and disseminate the findings of our meeting.