Prosecuted Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

Prosecuted Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

            The purpose of the research study (Ashley, 2008) is to achieve a deeper understanding of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) by focusing on data in the state of Illinois. This sought to address the research problem of recognizing the seriousness of CSEC as a criminal justice problem but with law enforcement agencies not having a thorough understanding of the problem and its solutions. The research funding came from the Department of Justice via the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) as part of the nationwide effort to gain an understanding of CSEC because of the disparity between this escalating problem and development of criminal justice solutions. The study answered five research questions: 1) What is the incidence and prevalence of victimization?; 2) What are the pathways to victimization?; 3) What are the characteristics of victims?; 4) What are the needs of exploited youth exiting exploitative situations?; and 5) What are the responses of law enforcement? (p.1).

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            The research design employed is case study. The case study fits the purpose of the study because this research design focuses on contextual analysis of details of a single or limited number of events (Yin, 2008). Although commercial sexual exploitation of children has various components, this comprises a single phenomenon, which fits the intention of a case study. Specifically, the study leaned more towards explanatory case study in providing a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of CSEC as a problem, the needs of victims, and response by law enforcement (Ashley, 2008). A case study also requires the derivation of detailed information from different sources to represent different perspectives and achieve a more encompassing view of the issue (Yin, 2008). The study derived primary data from victims and law enforcement officers and secondary data from government agencies and private organizations. Using this research design supports the achievement of the purpose of the study.

            A key operational definition used in the study is that of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The study adopted the OJJDP definition of CSEC as the “constellation of crimes of a sexual nature committed against youth younger than 18 years old primarily of entirely for financial of other economic reasons […] these crimes include, for example, trafficking for sexual purposes, prostitution, sex tourism, mail-order-bride trade, and early marriage, pornography, stripping, and sexual performances” (Ashley, 2008, pp. 5-6). This definition determined the crime in terms of its sexual nature, the victims, and the commercial or proprietary purpose. This also determined the characteristics of the victims in terms of age and susceptibility towards the constellation of crimes. The definition also operates in identifying the pathways to victimization such as via trafficking, prostitution, pornography, and other ways. Having an operational definition for CSEC was significant in providing a framework in understanding this issue and in investigating in-depth the various components.

            The study employed both inductive and deductive logic in presenting the results. These reflect the derivation of new information as well as the application of known theories.

Inductive reasoning was apparent in the conclusion that CSEC is a hidden crime, making it difficult to identify or recognize. This emerged from the interviews with law enforcement officers. One officer explained that often CSEC emerges while investigating reports of child sexual exploitation. Another response indicated the lack of awareness in distinguishing incidents with economic motivations and those without any financial motivations. Lastly, another respondent also implied the non-reporting of cases as CSEC although these qualify as such. (Ashley, 2008) These specific cases support the general conclusion that CSEC is a hidden crime.

            Deductive reasoning was also apparent in the application of the strain theory as an explanation for transgender victimization and exploitation. Transgender youths experience isolation and difficulty in becoming part of mainstream society. As a result, transgender youth face the high risk of for victimization and exploitation. Many of the transgender youth who participated in the focus groups mentioned the constellation of crimes comprising CSEC as the means they found to achieve a sense of belongingness, to derive economic support, or by force of having no other source of social support. (Ashley, 2008)

            Consideration of the data collected and the results of the study support the qualitative leanings of the research. A qualitative study seeks to develop contextual meaning and provide causal explanations by understanding events, processes and relationships. A qualitative study also emphasized worded instead of numbered explanations. (Maxwell, 2005) The purpose of the study is to derive and provide a contextual understanding of CSEC by focusing on the situations, processes, and relationship emerging from the primary and secondary data collected from different sources. The presentation of results was in discussion form. Although the presentation of the arrest data and other data were through tables and graphs, these were descriptive and used to summarize the results.
There are three methods of data collection, secondary research to derive CSEC arrest data for Illinois, focus group interviews with female and transgender victims of CSEC, and interviews of law enforcement officers. The arrest data spanned nearly ten years. In the focus groups, there were 19 female and 5 transgender participants selected through the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, which also moderated the focus groups. Ten state and local law enforcement officers working in Chicago participated in the interview. (Ashley, 2008) No mention was made of the number of populations represented. The sampling method combined purposive and convenience sampling. Since data collection method is focus groups and interviews, all the participants contributed to data collection, rendering a perfect return rate.

            The study found that there were only a small number of CSEC arrests between 1995 and 2004, with 45 arrests for juvenile prostitution, 162 for soliciting juvenile prostitution, and 258 for child pornography. There were no reports for misdemeanors. Female participants reported entry into the sex trade at an early age, the average age of entry is 12, due to similar reasons such as to provide for their basic needs or to pay for luxuries as well as to gain acceptance into a group. Most of the participants were runaways from abusive home environments. There was common agreement over the ineffectiveness of social services because of stigma, lack of understanding of their situation, and ineffective support. The transgender participants entered the sex trade at different ages but the reasons are economic survival and achieve belongingness. Transgender youths experience belongingness in prostitution as a game and competition among themselves. There are limited support services for transgender youth. Law enforcement officers reported mostly coincidental encounters with CSEC and recommend better training, information dissemination to the public, and improved placement services. (Ashley, 2008)

            CSEC is happening in Illinois but there remain many undiscovered cases. Risk groups and pathways to CSEC involvement are identifiable through the characteristics and experiences of female and transgender participants. Law enforcement need training in identifying CSEC victims and should investigate cases as such by considering the economic motivation. Effective placement facilities and processes is the most immediate support need. (Ashley, 2008)

             The study only considered arrest statistics in considering CSEC perpetrators. Looking into the characteristics of the people arrested for exploiting, perpetuating and soliciting the constellation of crimes comprising CSEC would also support the identification of victims and risk groups. This would also aid in investigating and prosecuting violators. Male child/youth respondents were not included when they also become victims of CSEC.


Ashley, J. (2008). The commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Retrieved June 13, 2009, from

Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Yin, R. K. (2008). Case study research: Designs and methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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