Adapting a family intervention to reduce risk factors for sexual exploitation

Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2020 Feb 18;14:8. doi: 10.1186/s13034-020-00314-w. eCollection 2020.


Background: Sexually exploited youth are disconnected from societal tethers and need support systems, which makes them some of the most vulnerable of youth. This heightened level of vulnerability increases their risk for violence, abuse, ongoing sexual exploitation and all its sequelae. The purpose of this study was to examine an evidence-based intervention called STRIVE (support to reunite, involve and value each other) that has been a successful family re-engagement strategy with newly homeless youth. We sought to explore its contextual relevance for youth with risk factors for sexual exploitation and identify necessary adaptations to reduce risk factors for sexual exploitation. We deliberately took an intersectional approach in conducting this study.

Methods: Six community-based focus groups were conducted with youth at risk for sexual exploitation and their service providers. Each group was recorded, transcribed, coded, and thematically analyzed.

Results: Results from 29 youth and 11 providers indicate that there are unique considerations that must be taken into account while working with youth at risk for sexual exploitation to ensure effective service delivery and/or ethical research. Emergent themes included: setting the stage by building rapport and acknowledging experiences of structural violence, protect and hold which balances youth's need for advocacy/support with their caregivers' need for validation/understanding, and walking the safety tightrope by assessing risks and safety planning.

Discussion: Focus groups are an effective methodology when working with traditionally disempowered populations particularly in gaining a range of perspectives to meet unique needs/preferences. Youth at risk for commercial sexual exploitation needs require strengths-based, individualized, multi-systemic approaches.

Keywords: Family intervention; Focus groups; Homeless youth; LGBTQ+ youth; Minority youth; Sexually exploited youth.