Methods: Comprehensive searches were conducted in nine databases (e.g., PsycInfo, PubMed, Violence and Abuse Abstracts, and Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress), and one search engine (i.e., Google Scholar) using the PRISMA guideline. Experts in the area of interest and a librarian jointly developed the search string. Gray literature was also searched through a number of non-profit, university, and government websites focused on juvenile sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth. Initial search criteria yielded 2983 articles potentially relevant for review. Using pre-developed criteria, researchers found 21 empirical studies that were published in English, focused on children and youth who were involved in commercial sexual exploitation, and explicitly investigated technology and Internet use. All selected studies were read in their entirety, and study findings were extracted using a standardized abstraction tool. Study quality was assessed and rated for all selected articles.
Results: Of the reviewed studies, eight used quantitative methods (e.g., survey), 10 used qualitative methods (e.g., focus groups, individual interviews, and case study), and three used both qualitative and quantitative methods. Synthesized results revealed that technology (e.g., smartphones) and Internet are widely used among children and youth who are involved in commercial sexual exploitation. Furthermore, many sexually exploited children and youth own smartphones, have access to Internet and social media, and can search Internet and use interactive media with minimal monitoring from their exploiter(s). Although all of the reviewed studies examined and reported technology use among these children and youth, the measures and assessments for technology use across the reviewed studies were neither specific nor consistent. A minority of studies (n = 5) contextualized technology use such that the purposes of use could be understood more fully. The purposes of use included advertising and connecting with buyers, connecting with exploiters, connecting with friends and family, and recreation.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings from the current systematic review suggest that technology and Internet use is common among commercially sexually exploited children and youth. However, findings raised more questions than they answered about the measurement, the nature, and the context of use. Lacking meaningful ways to assess technology and Internet use hinders an up-to-date, comprehensive knowledge about technology use among these vulnerable children and youth.