Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 49–63 | Cite as

A Traumagenic Social Ecological Framework for Understanding and Intervening with Sex Trafficked Children and Youth

  • Nadine M. Finigan-CarrEmail author
  • Melissa H. Johnson
  • Michael D. Pullmann
  • C. Joy Stewart
  • Anne E. Fromknecht


Sex trafficking of children and youth is receiving significant attention from practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. Recognition that sex trafficking constitutes a form of child abuse has increased; however, there is still a need for a theoretical framework that provides direction on how best to intervene and conduct research into this phenomenon. In this article, we present a traumagenic social ecological framework of child sex trafficking that examines perceived social norms, societal and environmental factors, extended and intimate relationships, and personal characteristics that influence the ecological setting in which the child is embedded. Utilizing a four-tier approach, our framework focuses on how factors at each level interact and contribute to youths’ vulnerability for sex trafficking through mechanisms including social norms. This allows us to move beyond individualistic explanations of why sex trafficking occurs and consider more complex relationships. This framework is also useful to identify and group intervention strategies on the basis of social ecological level, as each level can be thought of as both a level of influence and a key point for prevention. In addition, interventions that have an impact on all levels of the social ecological framework are encouraged in order to successfully prevent child sex trafficking.


Social norms Child sex trafficking Traumagenic model Socio-ecological framework Domestic minor sex trafficking Commercial sexual exploitation of children 



The authors would like to acknowledge their program officers, Rosie Gomez and Lauren Fischman, whose support of this research made this manuscript possible.


This publication was made possible by Grant Numbers 90CA1822, 90CA1823, 90CA1825, and 90CA1830 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Maryland, BaltimoreBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of Child and Family Studies, College of Behavioral and Community SciencesUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.University of Washington School of MedicineSeattleUSA
  4. 4.University of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  5. 5.James Bell Associates, Inc.ArlingtonUSA

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