Risk Factors forSexual Exploitation

Research has demonstrated that there are several factors that place a person at heightened risk of sex trafficking victimization. These factors range from individual experiences, to factors at the community and societal level. These risk factors generally stem from a presence of instability and chaos in the individual’s everyday environment. Such risk factors are listed below, as well as some protective factors that could serve to buffer against the presence of the following risk factors. It is important to note these risk factors when working with students who may experience one, or maybe several, of these items. It is imperative to build as many protective factors as possible for working with students at risk, in order to strengthen his/her support system.

Individual Risk Factors

  • Domestic violence, neglect, or abandonment
  • Gang-involvement
  • History of Abuse
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Trauma
  • Child welfare involvement
  • History of running away
  • Sexual orientation
  • Delinquency
  • Early sexual initiation
  • Prior sexual victimization

Relationship Factors

  • Family instability
  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and conflict
  • Childhood history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment
  • Poor parent-child relationships
  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship

Community Factors

  • Homelessness/Economic need/Poverty
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community

Societal Factors

  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to sexual violence and gender equity
  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

Protective Factors

  • Family stability
  • Social support network
  • Education/School connectedness
  • Positive peer support
  • Future goals
  • Limited drug/alcohol exposure
  • Healthy relationship boundaries


Dalla, 2001; Dalla, 2003; Hardman, 1997; Nadon, Koverola, & Schludermann, 1998; Roe-Sepowitz, 2012; Silbert & Pines, 1982; Simons and Whitbeck, 1991