Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Social Work

First Advisor

Julie Anne Laser-Maira, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nicole Nicotera

Third Advisor

Jennifer Bellamy

Fourth Advisor

Alexandra Lutnick


Commercial sex, Human trafficking, Survival sex, Youth


Youth involvement in trading/selling sex has become of concern for policy makers, scholars, and the general public in recent years (Cecchet & Thorburn, 2014; Hossain, et al, 2010; Pub L No. 106-386; Reid & Piquero, 2013; Sapiro, Johnson, Postmus, & Simmel, 2016; Shared Hope International, 2015). The behavior of trading/selling sex is defined dichotomously within the literature. One body of literature, employs the term "survival sex" when empirical work focuses on trading/selling sex among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) identified individuals or youth that are homeless (Greene, Ennett & Ringwalt,1999; Halcon & Lifson, 2004; Walls & Bell, 2011). Other literature refers to any youth involved in trading/selling sex as victims of "human trafficking" or "commercial sexual exploitation," especially when the focus is on cisgender young women (Cecchet & Thorburn, 2014; Hossain, et al., 2010; Reid & Piquero, 2013; Sapiro, Johnson, Postmus, & Simmel, 2016). This separation in the literature asserts a division in the perception of young people involved in trading/selling sex. Some have stated that this empirical divide has created a separation between youth who are seen as worthy (commercially sexually exploited youth) or unworthy victims (youth identified as involved in survival sex; Lutnick, 2016) Currently, among the research available regarding youth involvement in trading/selling sex, very few studies involve talking to youth directly about their experiences (Holger -Ambrose, Langmade, Edinburgh, & Saewyc, 2013; Marcus et al, 2014; Lutnick, 2016). The overall goal of this research study was to understand the experiences of homeless/street youth involvement in trading/selling sex so as to uncover information to begin to understand how clinical professionals may attend to these youths service needs. Through the use of a sequential mixed-methods research design, youth at homeless and drop-in shelters in one Western State were surveyed about their involvement in trading/selling sex. Subsequent to the surveys, youth were asked to participate in focus group discussions about their perceptions of peers' involvement in trading/selling sex. Of those surveyed, 17% (n = 21) identified themselves as having traded or sold sex for money or goods. A vast majority of those (who traded/sold sex) being cisgender, educated, Caucasian men. Focus group participants describe a spectrum of involvement in trading/selling sex. Some mention this occurring within romantic relationships where sex is used to obtain things, as well as the identification of more traditional forms of involvement such as survival sex and human trafficking.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Amber R. McDonald


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

177 p.


Behavioral sciences