A Short Screening Tool to Identify Victims of Child Sex Trafficking in the Health Care Setting

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Abstract

Objectives

The aim of this study was to describe characteristics of commercial sexual exploitation of children/child sex trafficking (CSEC/CST) victims and to develop a screening tool to identify victims among a high-risk adolescent population.

Methods

In this cross-sectional study, patients aged 12 to 18 years who presented to 1 of 3 metropolitan pediatric emergency departments or 1 child protection clinic and who were identified as victims of CSEC/CST were compared with similar-aged patients with allegations of acute sexual assault/sexual abuse (ASA) without evidence of CSEC/CST. The 2 groups were compared on variables related to medical and reproductive history, high-risk behavior, mental health symptoms, and injury history. After univariate analysis, a subset of candidate variables was subjected to multivariable logistic regression to identify an optimum set of 5 to 7 screening items.

Results

Of 108 study participants, 25 comprised the CSEC/CST group, and 83 comprised the ASA group. Average (SD) age was 15.4 (1.8) years for CSEC/CST patients and 14.8 (1.6) years for ASA patients; 100% of the CSEC/CST and 95% of the ASA patients were female. The 2 groups differed significantly on 16 variables involving reproductive history, high-risk behavior, sexually transmitted infections, and previous experience with violence. A 6-item screen was constructed, and a cutoff score of 2 positive answers had a sensitivity of 92%, specificity of 73%, positive predictive value of 51%, and negative predictive value of 97%.

Conclusions

Adolescent CSEC/CST victims differ from ASA victims without evidence of CSEC/CST across several domains. A 6-item screen effectively identifies CSEC/CST victims in a high-risk adolescent population.

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