Date of Conferral

2015

Degree

Ph.D.

School

Human Services

Advisor

Barbara Benoliel

Abstract

In spite of a paradigm shift redefining domestic minors trafficked through prostitution as victims instead of criminal offenders, many police officers experience uncertainty in the way they evaluate the nature of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) and assess the culpability status of prostituted minors. This problem often results in revictimizing children and hindering their ability to access needed services. The purpose of this multiple case study was to explore police officers' perceptions of minors engaged in prostitution and derive an understanding of the experiences, beliefs, and values that underlie these perceptions. The study also focused on how these factors influence police decision making regarding DMST. Attribution theory provided the framework. Participants included 4 police detectives assigned to a youth sex trafficking unit in a large city in the western region of the United States. Data were derived from individual interviews and significant documents. Coding and category construction were utilized to analyze single cases, and content analysis was used to analyze documents. Through cross-case analysis, data from all cases and sources were examined for common themes and discrepancies. The study's findings indicated all respondents perceived minors involved in prostitution as victims and that police empathy influenced perceptions and police decision making. The results of the study will potentially facilitate positive social change through advancing a deeper awareness of the nature of DMST and informing law enforcement policy and practices.