Introduction: Youth from low-income, urban backgrounds face significant challenges to maintaining a positive developmental trajectory. Dangerous neighborhoods and stressed relationships are common in these settings and threaten adaptation by weakening the natural assets that undergird resilience. African American girls in these contexts face specific, multiple risks, including gender stereotyping, violence, and sexual exploitation. The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a multibillion-dollar industry victimizing over 1 million children around the globe.1 The typical victim in 1 city in the southeastern United States is an African American girl 12-14 years old. There has been little research investigating the characteristics of girls placed at risk for CSEC and even less research on the personal perspectives of these girls.
Methods: Over 3 school terms we provided preventive intervention groups for 36 African American middle school girls who were placed at risk because they lived in neighborhoods with high rates of interpersonal violence and CSEC. Two group leaders and a process recorder took detailed notes on each group session. Our focus on group conversations over a period of weeks increased the probability of recording spontaneous, open comments by the children and is a promising method with this population. The data were analyzed qualitatively and resulted in an account of the girls’ own views of the environmental challenges and personal experiences that may influence their development.
Results: The girls’ language during the group sessions contained 4 themes: difficulty forming trusting relationships, frequent peer aggression, familiarity with adult prostitution, and sexuality as a commodity.
Conclusion: Our research shows how girls placed at risk for CSEC view their own lives. These children described violence and sexual exploitation and cited limited supports to protect them from these risks. Understanding the perspectives of these girls should generate future research and intervention strategies to support their coping and resilience.
Kruger, A.C., Harper, E, Harris, P., Sanders, D., Levin, K., & Meyers, J. (2013). Sexualized and dangerous relationships: Listening to the voices of low-income African American girls placed at risk for sexual exploitation. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14 (4), 370-376.
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