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$1.24M grant to help child sex trafficking victims

School of Social Work professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz
November 12, 2014

A five-year, $1.24 million grant will help to better identify children who are victims of sex trafficking in Arizona and provide training to child welfare professionals to improve outcomes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children, Youth and Families awarded the funding to Dominique Roe-Sepowitz and Judy Krysik. Both are professors and researchers in the School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University. The project will be a collaborative effort involving the ASU Office for Sex Trafficking Research Intervention, the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

“We’re very excited to partner with the Arizona Department of Child Safety to develop a system-wide awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children,” says Roe-Sepowitz, director of the Office for Sex Trafficking Research Intervention. ”We look forward to helping child welfare workers prevent, identify and find appropriate treatment resources for victims of sex trafficking.“

The Office for Sex Trafficking Research Intervention provided training earlier this year to representatives of 32 Arizona agencies that deal with kids in the state’s juvenile delinquency system. A follow-up survey identified 161 sex trafficking victims who receive services through a juvenile court-approved program. The survey was considered a snapshot of the problem. The federal grant will allow researchers to more thoroughly examine the magnitude of children who are exploited through sex trafficking.

“The first aspect is to learn about how large the prevalence is of sex trafficking victimization that we see in children in child welfare,” Roe-Sepowitz says. “To be able to do that, we have to train child welfare workers how to recognize these situations.”

The project will include an annual statewide summit to increase community awareness of children who are sex trafficking victims. It will feature multiple days of clinical training for professionals in the child welfare system. The grant will also create a community work group that spans Arizona, allowing various agencies to discuss specific cases in the child welfare system.

“What we really want is that child welfare workers, number one, identify this is as a safety issue for youth,” says Roe-Sepowitz. “Number two, intervene as needed. Number three, if they understand there are risk factors that are specific for these kids – things like running away multiple times a year, having a history of childhood sexual abuse, teen dating violence, not having really high self-esteem, being drawn to boys or men who are older than them – those are some of the things that we know make someone more likely to be victimized in sex trafficking. So, if we can train child welfare workers to identify those predictors and then ask some extra questions, maybe we can prevent quite a number of victims.”