Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Lisa Harlow


Sex trafficking is one of the largest and fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world (Cecchet & Thoburn, 2014), and represents a systematic form of violence against women (Curva, 2012; Ekberg, 2004). Despite growing social awareness and scholarly interest in commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), it remains an underdeveloped research area, and little research has been conducted from a social-psychological standpoint. A comprehensive review of qualitative research was conducted utilizing ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1992) as a framework for identifying major themes in the described experiences of survivors of CSE. In Study 1, emergent themes served as the basis for the development of a quantitative attitudinal measure. A two-step factor analytic approach was used to establish a three-factor measurement scale, Attitudes Towards Commercial Sexual Exploitation (ATCSE). In Study 2, an experimental design was implemented, using ATCSE sub-scales as primary dependent measures. Two manipulations (Sex-Buyer Violence and Sex-Seller Injury) were embedded in a written vignette depicting the exchange of sex for money. MANOVA was conducted using the three ATCSE sub-scales as dependent measures. A main effect was found for sex-buyer violence on participant endorsement of CSE, such that participants exposed to sex-buyer violence provided greater endorsement of CSE compared to participants in the control condition. One possible explanation is that exposure to violence towards women in the vignette had a priming or desensitizing effect on participants. Future research is needed to explore and test alternative presentations of CSE-related manipulations, in order to further develop and advance this important research area.