Childhood should be a time of innocence, but for some it means exposure to sexual exploitation. A meta-analysis examines risk factors linked to such exploitation.
Childhood should be about games, exploration, friendship, and learning. It should be a time of innocence, but unfortunately for some children it can also include sexual exploitation. A meta-analysis published in JAMA Network Open looked at the risk factors that are linked to that child sexual exploitation.1
The researchers searched Medline, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, EMBASE, and Informit for studies that fit their inclusion criteria, which was quantitative looks at sexual exploitation and an average sample age of 18 years or younger. The data were extracted by 2 independent reviewers. For the purposes of the meta-analysis, child sexual exploitation was defined as coerced sexual acts between a child or a young person, a person aged ≤18 years, and an individual or a group in exchange for gifts, money, substance, or other commodities.
The investigators found 37 unique studies that had 67,453 unique participants, who had an average age of 16.2 years. A total of 52 factors linked with child sexual exploitation were included. They found that the strongest factors with a significant link with exposure to sexual exploitation were having more than 5 sexual partners (odds ratio [OR], 5.96 [95% CI, 1.63-21.87]; P = .007), a history of childhood sexual abuse (OR, 3.80 [95% CI, 3.19-4.52]; P < .001), diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (OR, 5.29 [95% CI, 3.40-8.22]; P < .001), historical exposure to child pornography (OR, 5.50 [95% CI, 0.99-30.53]; P = .049), and engagement in sexual risk behaviors (OR, 6.31 [95% CI, 3.12-12.76]; P < .001). Other factors were found to have moderate to strong links.
The researchers concluded that children and teenagers who had a history of sexual exploitation exhibited high levels of childhood trauma, exposure to child pornography, sexual risk tasking, multiple sexual traumas, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder. They believe that detection of child sexual exploitation could be a way to provide chances to intervention and offer recovery. Additionally, prevention and intervention efforts would be bolstered for including the factors into screening, assessment, and treatment.
1. Laird J, Klettke B, Hall K, Clancy E, Hallford D. Demographic and psychosocial factors associated with child sexual exploitation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2017682. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.17682