Profiles of trauma exposure and biopsychosocial health among sex trafficking survivors: exploring differences in help-seeking attitudes and intentions



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Human sex trafficking is a complex and unique phenomenon involving the commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of persons by means of force, fraud, or coercion. The purpose of this study was to investigate unique patterns of trauma exposure and biopsychosocial health among a sample of CSE survivors. Results from a latent profile analysis with 135 adults trafficked in the United States yielded three distinct survivor sub-groups: mildly distressed, moderately distressed, and severely distressed. The mildly distressed class (18.5%) was characterized by the lowest reports of trauma exposure and an absence of clinically significant psycho-social stress symptoms. The moderately distressed class (48.89%) endorsed comparatively medial levels of trauma exposure, as well as clinically significant disturbance in six domains of psycho-social health. The severely distressed class (32.59%) reported the highest degree of trauma exposure and exhibited clinically significant symptoms of pervasive psycho-social stress across all domains assessed. To better understand variation in CSE survivors’ engagement with formal support services, this study also examined differences in help-seeking attitudes and intentions between latent classes. Results indicated that compared to those in the mildly and moderately distressed classes, severely distressed survivors endorsed significantly more unfavorable attitudes toward seeking professional help, along with no intention to seek help from any source when facing a personal or emotional crisis. Findings from this study provide a snapshot of significant heterogeneity in trauma exposure and biopsychosocial health among CSE survivors, as well as associated differences in help-seeking attitudes and intentions. The identification of distinct survivor sub-groups in these and future analyses mark an important intermediate step toward developing empirically-testable support services that are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of CSE survivors.



Sex trafficking, Biopsychosocial, Trauma exposure, Help-seeking attitudes, Help-seeking behaviors, Latent profile analysis

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Doctor of Philosophy


School of Family Studies and Human Services

Major Professor

Briana S. Goff