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The Last Girl Project (LGP) is a project dedicated to understanding the prevalence, drivers, responses, and realities of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in contemporary USA.

This page serves as a hub for pieces of data highlighted in the LGP monthly newsletter. You can sign up for this newsletter here.

April 2021

Data Highlight

Interviews with young adults have begun to illuminate a more complicated picture regarding risk factors for entry into DMST/CSEC than what research suggest. While current research highlights interactions with juvenile justice systems as a severe risk factor for DMST, 66% of young adults we interviewed who were placed in juvenile justice halls or residential treatment programs recalled experiencing “safety,” “stability” or”less stress” compared to “home.”

So What?

Identifying risk factors is a crucial part of understanding why DMST/CSEC happens, and for developing interventions to end it. However, risk factors are not unidirectional pathways to DMST/CSEC. Risk factors for some were protective factors for others — pointing to a more nuanced picture of what a “risk factor”can be and how we think about them.This nuance is critical for us to consider when working with individuals and/or on system-wide interventions for ending DMST/CSEC, as it reinforces the fact that there is not a singular pathway to DMST/CSEC

March 2021

Data Highlight

Interviews with young adults who have experienced DMST/CSEC between June 2020 and March of2021 mentioned not being able to self-identify their experiences as DMST/CSEC. Self-identification is when a young person who has traded sex for a valued entity identifies their experiences as trafficking. Young adults spoke of needing time or therapy to see their experiences as “trafficking”and/or CSEC, and mentioned that they did not see their experiences as such during the time it was happening. This critical roadblock is echoed in interviews with stakeholders, who noted that the lack of self-identification created problems in legal proceedings,service accessibility, and in determining an accurate prevalence statistic.

So What?

Having a young person self-identify their experiences as CSEC/DMST is crucial in understanding the problem’s drivers, dynamics, and prevalence. Self-identification is also crucial for a young person’s ability to access services, and even access justice, as many programs and laws are based off of being able to label your experiences appropriately. If a minor does not identify their experiences as DMST/CSEC,then they would not know to look for programs or laws made for this specific population. In that sense, young adults would miss out on programs, services, and resources available to them, and their experiences are not”counted” or reflected in prevalence estimates.

February 2021

Data Highlight

Interviews with young adults who have experienced DMST/CSEC between June 2020 and February of 2021 have begun to uncover potentially another distinct category of DMST/CSEC – one that is self-mediated but not for survival (EX: food, shelter). Out of the 83% of interviews with young adults who self-mediated, 37.5% engaged in trading sex for “reasons” outside of survival(where survival being trading for “essential” need, like housing). Often times young adults were minors living with their parents while engaging in sex work, and viewed it as a job for money to buy non-essential items, such as earrings. While some spoke of it as “easy money” or the only option given the job market, others mentioned feeling like they were taking advantage of how society already views them — as sexual objects.

So What?

Exploring differences in young people experiences’ in DMST/CSEC is critical to ending the problem. We are beginning to see a potentially separate phenomenon of self-mediating DMST/CSEC that’s distinct from survival sex. The distinction lies in the “reasons” why; 37.5% of our interviewed young adult sample aren’t engaging in DMST/CSEC for survival.Instead, they view their experience as one borne out of taking advantage of what’s available to them in the job market. Our initial research is showing that the sexual exploitation of young people points to larger cultural problems– the hyper-sexualization of young people’s bodies is being met with a rise in technology and poverty,and a decrease in healthy work opportunities.

January 2021

Data Highlight

83% of our interviews conducted with young adults who have experienced DMST/CSEC between June 2020 and January of 2021 spoke of self-trafficking experiences, where minors engaged in trading sex for a valued entity without a 3rd party trafficker. Some spoke of survival sex experiences, while others spoke of experiences wherein they saw themselves as profiting off of their desirability to society. While these numbers can be partially explained by our sample,our initial finding suggests a different picture of DMST/CSEC than what we think it is.

So What?

Having a unified yet nuanced understanding for why DMST/CSEC happens is critical to ending the problem. While traffickers exist, and are a big part of the problem, the villain in many of our interviewee’s lives was poverty, and the systems and communities that let them down. Our initial research is suggesting that DMST/CSEC is a more systemic problem, indicating a much higher prevalence than what has been reported.

December 2020

Data Highlight

Interviews conducted with 120 direct service providers,healthcare professionals, advocates, and law enforcement between June and July of 2020 elucidated three different “types”of domestic minor sex trafficking:

  1. “traditional” trafficking, where there’s a trafficker, a minor, and a buyer
  2. survival sex, where minors sell sex for survival
  3. familial trafficking, where the trafficker is a family member of the minor

So What?

The broad definition of sex trafficking for minors is fundamental to eliminating it. While all three forms of trafficking are about the sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., having three different forms of minor sex trafficking means we need programs designed to meet the needs of these different situations.