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Int J Law Psychiatry. 1997 Summer;20(3):337-54.

Youthful prostitution and child sexual trauma.

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Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


This paper has examined research that attempts to explain entry to prostitution in terms of the family experiences of young prostitutes. Though there is some evidence of rape, incest, and other kinds of sexual trauma in these backgrounds, this evidence is inconsistent and contradictory. A more plausible approach to the question is based on general control theories. Any traumas or conflicts that unattach children and youth from their families make youngsters highly vulnerable to delinquency. In the case of adolescent females, breach of family attachments appears to heighten the risk of early sexual involvements that, in the context of gender differences in sexual development, expose them to partners significantly older than themselves, and in significantly larger numbers than would otherwise be the case. These factors help explain the role of dysfunctional backgrounds in entry to prostitution without presupposing a role for unobservable traumas and psychiatric disturbances. They likewise recognize a role for the interaction between social control factors and the normal process of sexual development.

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