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9 Health & Just. 1 (2021)

handle is hein.journals/hlthjs9 and id is 1 raw text is: Cook et al. Health and Justice   (2021) 9:1
https://doi.org/1 0.1186/s40352-020-00127-1

Health and Justice

A longitudinal study of justice
characteristics among girls participating in
a sex trafficking court program
Mekeila C. Cook , Ryan D. Talbert2 and Breanna Thomas3
Background: Sex trafficking is a public health and social justice issue that has traditionally been addressed with
criminal justice solutions. Because many sex trafficking survivors are incarcerated for crimes related to their
exploitation, specialty, human trafficking courts were developed to offer resources and assistance to labor and sex
trafficking survivors. This study assessed justice-involved youth participating in a specialty, anti-trafficking court
program. The purpose of this study was to investigate justice-related outcomes of participants in a specialty court
program. We examined: (1) the relationship between age at first citation and justice characteristics (number of
bench warrants, number of citations, number placements, and number of times ran away); and (2) the number of
months between first citation and enrollment into the program with the aforementioned justice characteristics. We
used negative binomial models to estimate the relationships between age at first citation, number of months
between first citation and program enrollment, with the four justice characteristics (n = 181).
Results: Adjusted models showed that younger age at first citation was associated with significantly more bench
warrants and citations while in the program. Likewise, fewer months between first citation and program entry was
related to more bench warrants and citations.
Conclusions: There is a need to evaluate the appropriateness of specialty, trafficking court programs in reducing
continued justice involvement and these programs ability to meet the evolving needs of sex trafficking survivors
over time. We recommend universal screening for trafficking indicators for all systems-involved youth and
relocating trafficking specialty courts out of juvenile courts to dependency courts.
Keywords: Commercial sexual exploitation, Sex trafficking, Juvenile justice

It is estimated that between 4500 to 21,000 adolescents
and young adults are involved in the sex trade each year
in the United States (Swaner, Labriola, Rempel, Walker,
& Spadafore, 2016). Traditionally, these youth have been
viewed as teen prostitutes and treated accordingly by
law enforcement and juvenile courts. Being criminalized
for their abuse, these youth are processed through the
justice system for reasons directly connected to their
* Correspondence: mcook@mmc.edu
'Division of Public Health Practice, Meharry Medical College, 1005 Dr. DB
Todd Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209, USA
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article


sexual exploitation (e.g., prostitution) as well as in-
directly for related-offenses such as running away.
Despite many efforts by child advocates to shift the re-
sponse to sex trafficking from punitive to restorative, survi-
vors of sex trafficking are still detained and incarcerated for
offenses related to their exploitation. In response to the
identification of trafficking survivors, the justice system
seeks to address the illegal activities often associated with
trafficking, while also providing services to survivors in an
effort to reduce continued criminal behavior (Kendis, 2019;
Musto, 2013). Thus, human trafficking courts were devel-
oped following the model of other specialty programs, like

© The Author(s). 2021 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,
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