Sexual Trafficking and Exploitation of Adolescents in the United States: Conceptual Framework and Policy Strategies

November 2012

Commercial sexual trafficking and exploitation of adolescents is a pervasive and devastating problem that affects vulnerable young people around the world and in the United States. Increased attention to the phenomenon in diverse sectors has raised awareness but not yet generated effective prevention and remedies. An inaccurate perception persists in the US that the problem is not prevalent in this country. There is also no coherent conceptual framework in the US for understanding the problem’s causes, nature, and solutions. This has resulted in misguided policies, ineffective remedies, and a lack of political will sufficient to solve the problem on a widespread basis.

This seminar will bring together diverse stakeholders from academic institutions, public agencies, and non-governmental organizations to explore a series of essential questions. We aim to develop the foundational elements of a conceptual framework for understanding the sexual trafficking and exploitation of adolescents in the US, as well as policy strategies for preventing the problem and reducing the adverse impact on victims on a broad scale. The exploration will focus primarily on the problem in the US, but also consider similarities and differences between manifestations and solutions in this country and globally. Particular attention will be given to ways in which sexual trafficking is part of a continuum of maltreatment of children and youth.

Participants will include experts in human rights, human trafficking, law, health, juvenile justice, child welfare, women’s rights, and the rights of especially vulnerable young people, such as racial and ethnic minority, LGBT, and homeless youth. The seminar will comprise a series of guided roundtable discussions of critical foundational questions structured to identify areas of agreement and disagreement and inspire future research. Participants will be invited to submit written statements in advance of the seminar. We intend the seminar to have several potential outcomes: 1) to inform the ongoing individual research and advocacy of participants; 2) to develop and disseminate a white paper proposing a conceptual framework and policy strategies; 3) to collect a set of essays by participants for publication in a volume edited by the coproposers of the seminar; and 4) to encourage future collaborative efforts to study, test, and implement effective policies.