Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Roger Boothroyd, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Brent Small, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lisa Rapp-McCall, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Norin Dollard, Ph.D.


Commercial sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, domestic minor sex trafficking, youth


Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) involving children is understood to be a pervasive public health problem that negatively impacts individuals, families, and communities (Greenbaum, 2020). Combined efforts of the United States government, federal agencies, organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, researchers, and practitioners work toward understanding risk factors associated with CSE in an effort to prevent victimization (Fong & Cardoso, 2010). Given the amount of public and political attention to trafficking over the past two decades, it is concerning that prevalence estimates widely vary and may be unreliable. Further, there is not currently a validated screening tool widely used to identify victims of CSE.

With that in mind, the purpose of this dissertation is to examine the reliability and validity of a screening tool used in Florida to identity trafficking victims. The dissertation is comprised of three separate but related manuscripts that discuss human trafficking screening tools used throughout the United States, analyze the psychometric properties of Florida’s screening tool, and empirically verify risk factors for sex trafficking based on data compiled on youth in Florida. Screening tool data and data on risk factors were collected by intake staff of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The paragraphs below outline the focus of each of the manuscripts compiled for this dissertation.

The first manuscript, presented in Chapter 2, presents a systematic literature review with a two-fold purpose. One focus of the review centered on compiling tools historically and currently used to screen for human trafficking with a deliberate focus around sex trafficking of minors. Secondly, the systematic review examined risk factors and indicators included in the tools commonly associated with the sex trafficking of minors. Twenty-six tools were identified to screen for sex trafficking. Nine tools were specific to sex trafficking, whereas half of the tools included content to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking. An examination of the reliability and validity of less than half of the screening tools were available (46%). The review also observed that many of the risk factors commonly noted in extant literature were included in the screening tools.

Chapter 3, the second manuscript, focused on examining evidence of validity and reliability of a screening tool used in Florida. Strategies to assess content validity, construct validity, criterion-related validity, inter-rater reliability, and internal consistency of Florida’s Human Trafficking Screening Tool (HTST) were employed. Screening tool data and administrative data for over 4,800 youth engaged with DJJ between 2017 and 2019 were assessed for this study. Findings suggested limited evidence that the HTST is a valid and reliable tool. Insufficient evidence of construct validity and little evidence of criterion-related validity were observed. Further, although internal consistency was adequate, inter-rater reliability indicated poor agreeability among raters. Suggestions for improving the reliability and validity of the tool were offered.

Lastly, the third manuscript, presented in Chapter 4, built on analyses presented in Chapter 3, and sought to empirically verify the relationship between risk factors and confirmed sex trafficking. Data from the HTST and DJJ’s risk assessment tools were used to better understand youth and family characteristics associated with sex trafficking. This study estimated several logistic regression models to understand unique vulnerabilities for demographic subgroups. Many findings aligned with previous research. For instance, runaway history predicted sex trafficking across groups. Factors related to mental health and substance use varied among subgroups. Other findings were inconsistent with previous literature. A few explanations are offered that may account for those inconsistencies. This dissertation concludes with a discussion summarizing and synthesizing findings of each of these studies. Limitations are discussed as well as implications for policy, practice, and research.