- National Center for Youth Law - https://youthlaw.org -

Research Study Examines Services and Placements of CSEC

[1]Across the country, thousands of children and youth are bought and sold for sex every year. Despite increased attention to the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth (CSEC) and a growing recognition that these young people should be supported as victims of child abuse, rather than criminalized, there is a dearth of research about the most effective types of services and placements for this population. The research that does exist rarely takes into account the perspectives of children and youth about their own experiences.

To help fill this gap, the National Center for Youth Law teamed up with Cal State LA and Los Angeles County to produce a first-of-its kind study [1] exploring the impact of specialized services and placement type on young people who have been commercially sexually exploited in Los Angeles County. And to make sure that we heard from youth directly about their experiences in their own words, the study combined both administrative data from the Probation Department and Department of Children and Family Services, along with insights from youth through surveys of over 100 youth and interviews with six young women.   Kate Walker Brown, Director of NCYL’s Collaborative Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation Initiative, and Carly Dierkhising of Cal State LA, presented the results of the study to the Board of Supervisors on November 13.

In this study, youth shared their stories, their experiences with and preferences for services and placements, and what helped and is helping them heal and live healthy, full lives. Some key themes from the youth surveys and interviews include:

The Probation and DCFS data provided further insight into the characteristics of youth identified as exploited, the placement stability associated with different types of placements, and the impact of specialized services on placement stability. Key findings include:

Through this study, we learned more about the youth we are serving, and much of this knowledge was gleaned directly from youth, in their own words. We also uncovered a great deal about whether different placements and services are having impacts on youth, in terms of their placement stability as well as how youth are are experiencing them. We identified key components that all placements and services should include, such as trauma-informed and culturally appropriate care, multi-disciplinary collaboration, well-trained and well-supported staff, processes for seeking and incorporating youth feedback about decisions affecting their lives, and a robust data system to further evaluate what is working and what isn’t.

“The collaborative work between the Integrated Leadership Team, Cal State LA, and the National Center for Youth Law is exemplary and demonstrates the success we can achieve tackling tough issues when we work together,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis.

Although we did not uncover a single placement type or service that helped all youth, the study serves as an important reminder that each child or youth is an individual beyond their experience with exploitation, and has a unique history, needs, interests, and goals. We must also remember that at a basic level, young people want to feel loved and cared for by supportive, understanding, non-judgmental adults, and those relationships can be transformative for a youth. As one young woman interviewed in the study explained, “Y’all should give the girls hope, like they have something to live for.”

Equipped with this deeper understanding of youth experiences and the impact of placements and services on their lives, the National Center for Youth Law’s Collaborative Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation Initiative will continue to support Los Angeles County and jurisdictions around the country as they develop and improve collaborative, supportive, youth-centered placements and services.