The Role of Youth Problem Behaviors in the Path From Child Abuse and Neglect to Prostitution: A Prospective Examination

Helen W Wilson, Cathy Spatz Widom
Journal of Research on Adolescence: the Official Journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence 2010, 20 (1): 210-236
Behaviors beginning in childhood or adolescence may mediate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and involvement in prostitution. This paper examines five potential mediators: early sexual initiation, running away, juvenile crime, school problems, and early drug use. Using a prospective cohort design, abused and neglected children (ages 0-11) with cases processed during 1967-1971 were matched with non-abused, non-neglected children and followed into young adulthood. Data are from in-person interviews at approximate age 29 and arrest records through 1994. Structural Equation Modeling tested path models. Results indicated that victims of child abuse and neglect were at increased risk for all problem behaviors, except drug use. In the full model, only early sexual initiation remained significant as a mediator in the pathway from child abuse and neglect to prostitution. Findings were generally consistent for physical and sexual abuse and neglect. These findings suggest that interventions to reduce problem behaviors among maltreated children may also reduce their risk for prostitution later in life.

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