Running the Gauntlet: Understanding Commercial Sexual Exploitation and the Pathways Perspective to Female Offending

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology


Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), Pathways perspective, Female offenders



Although there exists a growing body of research on female delinquents, few studies have investigated extensively the life courses of young women with histories of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Adding to the pathways perspective to offending literature, this article examines the narratives of young women with histories of CSE, emphasizes what they interpret as turning points, and illustrates their criminal trajectories as a “gauntlet.”


This article presents a case study of six female offenders with histories of commercial sexual exploitation.


Interviewees identified disrupted relationships with their mothers, early experiences of sexual abuse, and justice involvement as turning points toward their “gauntlet” of CSE and criminality. In addition, intergenerational normalization of drug abuse and violence in their homes, economic and racial marginalization, and absence of nurturing relationships led to interviewees’ interpretations of their lives as limited in agency, freedom, and change and filled with criticism, constriction, and punishment. Such interpretations preceded their return to offending behaviors.


The pathways perspective to understanding sexually exploited female offenders is an important contribution in the field of feminist criminology. When combined with understanding young women’s turning points toward delinquency and CSE and their perceived effect of system involvement, the pathways perspective underscores the constraint and challenges these young women express as they navigate their communities, approach relationships, and return to criminality.

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