Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



First Advisor

Eva Feindler


Although exact numbers are unknown, the largest prevalence study to date has estimated that between 1999-2000 alone a minimum of 244,000 children were at risk for being commercially sexually exploited in the United States, a number based on findings that approximately 70% of street youth and 30% of shelter youth engage in survival sex (Estes & Weiner, 2001). The consequences of commercial sexual exploitation can be devastating and range from mental and physical health problems, substance abuse, physical and sexual violence to death (Kramer & Berg, 2003). While some risk factors have been identified, with childhood sexual abuse being the greatest predictor of commercial sexual exploitation, there has been little research on resiliency factors in this population. Using qualitative research methods, this study examined the resources and resiliency factors that help commercially sexually exploited and trafficked adolescent girls leave the sex trade and move on with their lives. Working closely with the staff at Girls' Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), the only program in New York City dedicated to serving this population, 19 women ages 18 -26 who were sexually exploited as adolescents participated in focus group discussions about how they were able to leave “the life.” Transcripts of these discussions were coded using Auerbach and Silverstein’s (2003) grounded theory method to systematically identify the resources and resiliency factors that supported them in making this transition. Social support, future orientation, self-efficacy, flexible thinking, knowledge about commercial sexual exploitation, acceptance, gratitude, patience, resourcefulness in meeting basic needs, self-care, and the view of oneself as a survivor were identified as resiliency factors that facilitated exiting the commercial sex trade.