Date of Award

Spring 2008

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The involvement of youth in prostitution has proven to be a difficult and complex issue for law enforcement, child welfare, and social service agencies to confront. This stems from the complicated social and legal aspects of the problem, which have created considerable ambiguity in how to recognize, define and, ultimately, handle juveniles engaging in prostitution. This research project examined how juvenile prostitutes were conceptualized by law enforcement, as victims or offenders, by examining the law enforcement response to this social problem. One hundred and twenty-six juvenile prostitute's case files from six law enforcement agencies in major U.S. cities were reviewed for this study. This study found that 60% of youth in this sample were considered victims and 40% were viewed as offenders by law enforcement. Logistic regression was utilized to examine to predict the juveniles' culpability status as a victim. The full model predicted 91% of the cases correctly and explained 67% of the variance in juveniles' culpability status as a victim. Youth involved in prostitution who were more cooperative with law enforcement, whose prostitution experience involved exploiters that were identified by law enforcement, and whose case was reported to law enforcement were more likely considered sexual abuse victims. Law enforcement officers in the six agencies sampled for this study conceptualized juvenile prostitutes mostly as victims and viewed exploiters, especially pimps, to be the most culpable in cases of juvenile prostitution. However, some juvenile prostitutes were handled as offenders. In some cases law enforcement encountered difficulties in trying to protect youth involved in prostitution. This stems from the fact that many of the youth involved in prostitution are multi-problem youth who are resistant to law enforcement's aid and restrictions in detaining status offenders as enacted in the JJDP act of 1974. Youth who were uncooperative with law enforcement, were acting on their own and were discovered through some type of law enforcement action were more likely, but not always, processed as offenders.