Sexual exploitation of young men: Background characteristics and needs from a life-course perspective

Gabriëlle Mercera*, Frank Noteboom, Chantal Timmermans, Sophie Leijdesdorff, Evelyn Heynen, Thérèse van Amelsvoort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Sexually exploited young men are prevalent, yet underrepresented in clinical practice, policy and research. There are multiple barriers that often prevent young men to disclose and to seek or receive support, such as gender norms, limited awareness of victimization and feelings of guilt and shame. Objective: By gaining more insight into the background characteristics of young men who experienced sexual exploitation and their needs, this study aims to raise awareness and to better inform policymakers, care- and educational professionals on adequate prevention and intervention efforts. Methods: Twenty-six young men (age 14–32) who experienced sexual exploitation or other forms of sexual violence in their youth or were at high-risk, participated in this qualitative study that was conducted in The Netherlands. By means of semi-structured interviews and case-file analyses, data was collected to identify risk and protective factors in their life-course and support needs. Results: Several vulnerabilities (e.g. previous experiences of abuse and neglect, household dysfunction, social rejection, running away, substance use) and a lack of positive and supportive relationships led young men into high-risk situations. Among these were involvement in pay dates, criminality and having to survive from day to day, which contributed to victimization. Prevailing gender norms and experiences of stigmatization were often a barrier to express vulnerabilities and to disclose victimization. There was a wide variety in support needs, including peer-to-peer support, therapy, support with day-to-day practices and anonymous support. Conclusions: These results will contribute to adequate prevention and trauma-informed intervention strategies that meet the unique needs of young men at risk for, or victim of sexual exploitation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106794
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Risk factors
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Support needs
  • Young men


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