Youth with Backgrounds of Involvement in Commercial Sex Activity (YCSA)

Mentoring Youth with Backgrounds of Involvement in Commercial Sex ActivityThis innovative application of mentoring has gained popularity in the past decade, as both policymakers and service providers working with these populations recognized that a relationship-centered approach for youth who have experienced sexual exploitation holds much potential value, both as a form of direct support for these youth and as a means of connecting them with other relevant supports. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has been at the forefront of federal efforts to pilot targeted mentoring programming for YCSA through several funding cycles (FY2016 and FY2017). Mentoring services for YCSA tend to be delivered in multi-component programs designed to address a wide variety of needs.

What does the research say about mentoring youth with these backgrounds?

In 2016, the National Mentoring Resource Center released a review of the research base related to mentoring for YCSA. This review noted that “research directly addressing mentoring for youth with backgrounds of commercial sex involvement is extremely limited in scope and largely insufficient” for addressing key questions related to effectiveness or program practice. However, the review did note several considerations that have the potential to be important in mentoring these youth:

  • Benefits of mentoring for YCSA may be conditional upon mentors having appropriate training and/or histories of commercial sex involvement themselves.
  • Processes involving hope, identity, social support, and education and career development may be instrumental as pathways through which mentoring is able to benefit YCSA.
  • Although it appears viable to engage YCSA in mentoring supports and services, it may prove difficult to sustain their involvement over time due to high levels of flux and instability in their life circumstances.

Building on these observations, several insights for practitioners serving this population were discussed, including:

  • The potential value of utilizing former YCSA as mentors
  • Tasking mentors with helping youth connect to other services and supports
  • Being patient and offering flexible services to keep bringing youth who are drifting in and out of “the life” into more stable conditions over time.

What does the NMRC offer on mentoring for these youth?

Broad Evidence Reviews

Reviews of Relevant Practices

  • Mentors working with youth who have been sexually exploited are frequently involved in an advocacy role. Read the review of the program practice of supporting mentors in an advocacy role and the accompanying insights for practitioners.

Blog Posts


Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in Mentoring
for Youth with Backgrounds in Commercial Sex Activity

  • OJJDP's Mentoring Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Initiative supports organizations that respond to the needs of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. This initiative has two components: project sites and training and technical assistance. Project sites work to develop or enhance their mentoring capacity, facilitate outreach efforts, and increase the availability of direct services for child victims (17 years old or younger) of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. Past and present project sites are located in Boston, MA; El Paso, TX; Wichita, KS; Oakland, CA; Bloomfield Hills, MI; New York, NY; Baton Rouge, LA; Las Vegas, NV; Sacramento, CA; New Orleans, LA; Los Angeles, CA; and Harrisburg, PA and other regions across the country. Training and technical assistance is provided to project sites by the Mid-Atlantic Network of Youth and Family Services (MANY).
  • Mentoring Project Sites funded by OJJDP’s Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative in 2017 can be found here, 2016 can be found here, and for 2014-2015 can be found here.
  • Wichita State University Center for Combatting Human Trafficking and MANY, in partnership with OJJDP, developed the Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding. As a resource for multidisciplinary professionals, policy makers, volunteers, faith communities and others involved in anti-trafficking work, this toolkit provides information on a variety of topics related to human trafficking with a specific focus on mentoring for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Access this resource on the MANY website here.

Select Additional Reading and Resources

See also the bibliography of the NMRC evidence review for a full listing of other research and reports on this population and related mentoring concepts.

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