Risk and Protective Factors for Sexual Exploitation in Male and Female Youth From a Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Systematic Review

Gabriëlle Mercera*, Roel Kooijmans, Sophie Leijdesdorff, Evelyn Heynen, Thérèse van Amelsvoort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Youth are at elevated risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation, which has a detrimental impact on their physical and psychological well-being. Understanding factors associated with sexual exploitation is key for prevention efforts and adequate and timely treatment. This systematic review sheds more light on this by providing an overview of both risk and protective factors for sexual exploitation in male and female youth from a cross-cultural perspective. In all, 65 studies were selected meeting the inclusion criteria: qualitative or quantitative peer-reviewed studies in English, Dutch, or German with findings on risk and protective factors associated with sexual exploitation in youth aged up to 24 years. Results show that there are common risk factors in male and female youth worldwide (e.g., adverse childhood experiences, lack of a social network, substance use, and running away). Positive and supportive relationships are an important protective factor in mitigating the risk of sexual exploitation. Geographic differences were found. In non-Western continents, more environmental factors (e.g., economic vulnerabilities, residential instability) were cited. Research in countries outside the United States is limited and protective factors and males are underexamined. To fully understand vulnerabilities in youth, their interactions, and possible gender differences and to address the needs of diverse populations, more insight should be gained into the broader range of risk and protective factors worldwide. This systematic review has made a valuable contribution to this by providing practice, policy, and research guidance in the establishment of more targeted prevention efforts, adequate treatment, and areas to address in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1966-1984
JournalTrauma, Violence, and Abuse
Issue number3
Early online date11 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Oct 2023


  • child abuse
  • cultural contexts
  • prostitution/sex work
  • sexual abuse
  • youth violence


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