The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Meso- and Macro-Level Challenges of Providing Case Management to Domestic Minor Victims of Sex Trafficking

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 9:00 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Alexandra Lutnick, MA, PhDc, Research Director, RTI International, San Francisco, CA
Background: Following passage of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) public awareness and services for victims of human trafficking increased. The TVPA defines any United States citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 who is involved in commercial sex acts as a domestic minor victim of sex trafficking (DMVST). Providing services for DMVST can present a number of significant challenges. This presentation will focus on meso- and macro-level challenges case managers face in their work with DMVST. Suggestions for addressing these challenges will be offered.    

Methods: Case managers at three programs that work with DMVST (the SAGE Project, Inc. in San Francisco, the Streetwork Project at Safe Horizon in New York, and the STOP-IT Program at Salvation Army in Chicago) provided case history narratives about the young people with whom they work. Three site visits were conducted with each program, and case managers purposively selected 5 young people per each site visit to profile in case narratives. At subsequent site visits updates were collected about individuals for whom a narrative already existed.

Results: Over an 18 month period, a total of 15 unique case history narratives were collected from each of the three programs (N=45). Although micro challenges were prevalent, many of these are commonly found in work with other marginalized young people. Focusing on meso- and macro-level challenges, several themes emerged. Collaborating with the child welfare system has proven to be particularly challenging. Perceived competition also strains collaboration with other agencies. Laws that govern a young person’s ability to work and that place restrictions on the age at which a person can enter into a contract, diminishes case managers’ ability to address their clients’ identified needs and assist in their transition out of the sex industry. Lastly, the TVPA does not address the root factors that contribute to young people’s involvement in the sex industry. Arresting and prosecuting young people sends the dual message that they are victims and criminals.

 Conclusions: Current policies emphasize the importance of connecting these young people to a continuum of services. However, the lack of funding to assure the minimal amount of social welfare services, coupled with the lack of coordination among service providers is troubling. Housing and employment options are desperately needed for young people. Because prostitution is regulated by the States and not the federal government, the TVPA is read as largely inapplicable for young people detained for prostitution offenses. Even though in most states these young people have not reached the legal age of consent for sex, they are still arrested for a sexual encounter that under other laws would be classified as rape or statutory rape. It is logically inconsistent to say that young people are not able to consent to sex yet they are criminalized for trading sex. Young people’s involvement in prostitution needs to be decriminalized. Until attention is shifted to the circumstances people experience prior to entering the sex industry, policies and programs will fail to meet the needs of this population.