Mentor Readiness

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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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"Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding" is a toolkit designed to be a resource for multidisciplinary professionals, policy makers, volunteers, faith communities, and others involved in anti-trafficking work. While the information provided on each topic is in no way exhaustive, you will find additional resources to facilitate further study. Each topic is addressed in three sections: First, the “what?”– what we know about the topic which includes a review of what we know from both research and the field. “So what?” addresses what this means – the reason this information is important to understand and how it will enhance our response to trafficking. “Now what?” considers the implications of this information in practice - how the information can be used to enhance our response to human trafficking. This includes specific implications for mentoring relationships, when applicable.  


To be an effective mentor, one must have a genuine interest in a young person and their future. Mentors must also be prepared to take on the responsibility that comes with being present in their mentee’s life. Failing to meet these commitments can have devastating results for youth, particularly those who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation. Victim/survivors likely have experience with adults who have exited their lives abruptly, broken promises, or otherwise let them down. Successful mentoring relationships have the potential to be transformational and enriching, creating a lasting impact for the mentor and mentee. A comprehensive screening process should be used in assessing the readiness of a potential mentor to make this significant commitment.  This screening process lays the foundation for successful mentoring relationships. The Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM1 identifies the following program practices as part of an overall screening process for mentors:

  • Established, clear criteria to guide decisions regarding acceptance/disqualification as a mentor;
  • A completed written application that collects information to assess safety and suitability as a mentor;
  • In-person interview that includes opportunities to further assess mentor readiness;
  • Comprehensive criminal background check that includes national criminal records, child abuse, and sex offender databases; and
  • Formalized mentor commitment through signing of a written contract that clearly defines expectations for the program including participation in program training and support.

Recruitment, screening, and training practices are all important components in assessing mentor readiness, particularly for youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation.

So What?

A young person who has been subjugated to sexual exploitation will have unique needs when it come to a mentoring relationship. This must be taken into consideration when assessing mentor readiness.

  • Determination
    • A mentor must remain committed to their mentee, even when things are not going well.2 Youth who have experienced sexual exploitation may push their mentor away in self-protection, until they trust that the mentor will not hurt them.
    • Mentors model determination by helping youth overcome barriers they encounter and encouraging them to achieve goals despite facing challenges. They help youth self-identify strengths and abilities they can utilize to accomplish their goals even after the mentor relationship ends.3
  • Genuine Interest and Care
    • Successful mentoring will create what is known as a transformational relationship, or a relationship that results in some amount of change, growth, or development for the better.4
      • Interest and care are foundational elements of a transformational relationship.5,6 If a mentor lacks genuine interest and care for their mentee, or appears to focus solely on changing them, they are unlikely to develop a trusting relationship.
  • Mentoring can be challenging, especially when it involves youth who have experienced the trauma and exploitation of trafficking. Mentors must be committed to the relationship even if their mentee puts up walls, makes a mistake, or shuts down, as these are often responses to the trauma they have experienced. Training should prepare mentors to understand this and provide program support for mentors to comfortably discuss these experiences.
  • Many victims/survivors of trafficking have never engaged in positive, healthy relationships with supportive adults. A mentor who shows up no matter what the circumstance sends a positive message to the youth and provides a model for what a healthy relationship looks like.2
  • Victims of sexual exploitation have experienced a great deal of trauma. They will have likely been hurt (physically, emotional, sexually, and spiritually) by family, traffickers, the justice system, and other agencies.4 They may have little experience in navigating a relationship where there is genuine interest and concern for their well-being. Mentors must have patience in this process and realize that the development of a trusting relationship will be slow.
  • The impacts of trafficking can make it difficult for the victim/survivor to understand and maintain healthy boundaries due to abuse and exploitation by trusted adults. Mentors have the opportunity to model non-exploitive relationships and healthy boundaries.  Clear, consistent boundaries are essential in maintaining the safety of the relationship with the mentee.
  • Mentor relationships that end prematurely can have long-lasting harmful effects on the mentee.7,8
    • Youth are more likely to open up to someone if they believe that the person is committed to a long-term relationship.
    • Consistent contact demonstrates both interest and care to a mentee, and has been shown to increase youth’s sense of belonging.9,10,11
    • By modeling commitment, a mentor can teach youth how to engage in healthy, stable relationships.
  • Creating transformational relationships is the ultimate goal of mentoring. A mentor who shows genuine interest and care for their mentee can help them experience positive growth and change.

Now What?

Mentoring Practice Implications


  • Mentors must possess determination, have genuine interest and care for their mentee, and be committed to the relationship. It is important to note that the mentee may not always display these same qualities. It is expected that the mentor act as a leader in this area, demonstrating and teaching these characteristics to their mentee.
  • Mentors should be ready to make a commitment to mentoring for at least one year.1 Consistency is vital to the success of the mentoring relationship.

Mezzo/Service Provider

  • Programs should design their recruitment, screening, training materials, and processes to attract mentors with the characteristics needed to serve youth who have been commercially sexually exploited.
  • Programs should have strategies to recruit potential mentors who are equipped to take on the task of mentoring, and whose skills and background align with their program goals.1 In addition, partnering with human trafficking organizations or groups may be beneficial in recruiting survivors as mentors.
    • It is important to clearly state program responsibilities and expectations for mentors up front. Clear and accurate information about time commitment, training, or other requirements should be included in all recruitment materials.
    • Guidelines regarding the mentor/mentee relationship should be established and clearly communicated to the mentor (refer to Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM for more information).
  • Screening mentors is essential. Not everyone who applies to be a mentor has the qualities needed to be successful.1 Additionally, a mentor may be very successful when matched with some youth, but may not be an appropriate match for a young person who has experienced commercial sexual exploitation.
    • A mentor screening tool should include a short description of the program, disqualifications, requirements, and most notably, a commitment to at least one year of participation. Potential mentors must know that good intentions can cause harm if they fail to take the commitment seriously.1
    • In addition to assessing readiness, the screening process should include background checks for criminal history, child abuse and neglect, sex offender registry, and driving records to ensure that the mentor meets all program safety requirements. It is important to consider what criminal charges may disqualify someone from being a mentor. This is particularly true if the organization is recruiting survivors as mentors, as they may have criminal background related to their experiences of sexual exploitation.
    • Programs should request personal references from potential mentors and perform an in-person interview to further assess appropriateness and readiness.
    • The screening process should include questions gauging determination, commitment, and genuine interest and care.1 Some examples include:
      • What leads you to invest in mentoring youth?
      • How will you show genuine interest and care for a youth’s positive development?
      • Are you ready and willing to commit to a youth and sustain that promise?
      • How much time can you dedicate to spending with your mentee weekly, monthly, etc.?
      • Are you prepared to walk with a youth through difficult life circumstances?
      • Are you prepared to stand by your mentee and help them get back on track if they make choices that are potentially harmful to their wellbeing?
      • Are you prepared to offer support to a youth who has court dates, probation requirements, a criminal record, or other similar realities?
      • What is too much for you to handle?
    • It is important to clearly state the responsibilities and expectations for mentors in the beginning. Guidelines regarding the mentor/mentee relationship should be established and clearly communicated to the mentor (refer to Critical Elements of Mentoring for more information).
    • To be successful, mentors need to be trained and properly supported throughout the mentoring program.1
    • In order to ensure that mentors are prepared to confidently take on their responsibilities, training is needed prior to being matched with a mentee.
      • Pre-match training should prepare mentors for what is involved in a mentor relationship and equip them with the tools needed to be successful.
        • Example training topics may include; purpose of mentoring, program requirements, expectations and roles of mentor and mentee, ethical/safety issues, role of the service provider, relationship initiation, development, and closure.1
        • All mentors who will be serving victims/survivors of commercial sexual exploitation should receive training on CSEC, as well as training in strategies for working with youth who have experienced multiple layers of trauma.
        • Pre-match training should also include a discussion of risk management. This ensures the mentors protect themselves and the agency from liabilities. This training should provide guidelines on confidentiality, mandated reporting, appropriate contact/boundaries, types of approved visits, transportation, crisis procedures, etc.1
        • A manual or handbook that includes program policies as well as helpful information provides mentors with a practical tool they can reference easily. After-hours procedures and agency contacts should also be included in the event that a mentor needs support outside of traditional office hours.


  • Make mentoring a priority by advocating and providing support for community mentoring programs.
  • Emphasize the long-term commitment of mentors when promoting mentoring in the community.
  • Encourage mentors to become advocates. Mentors’ close personal connections with vulnerable youth affords them the opportunity to develop a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by young people today, which can inspire them to redress social ills and advocate for policies that could improve the health and well-being of all youth living in these kinds of circumstances.12



  1. Garringer, M., Kupersmidt, J., Rhodes, J., Stelter, R., & Tai, T. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, fourth edition. Boston: MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. Retrieved from:
  2. DuBois, D., Felner, J. (2016). Mentoring for youth with backgrounds of involvement in commercial sex activity. National Mentoring Resource Center. Retrieved from
  3. Boddy, J., Agllias, K., & Gray, M. (2012). Mentoring in social work: Key findings from a women's community-based mentoring program. Journal of Social Work Practice26(3), 385-405.
  4. Countryman-Roswurm, K. I., & Shaffer, V. A. (2015). It’s more than just my body that got hurt: The psychophysiological consequences of sex trafficking. Journal of Trafficking, Organized Crime and Security1(1), pp-1.
  5. Bean, B. W., & Kroth, M. (2013). Moving beyond mentoring: A collective case study examining the perceived characteristics of positive transformational figures. Journal of Adult Education42(2), 86-97.
  6. Schwartz, S., Lowe, S., & Rhodes, J. (2012). Mentoring relationships and adolescent self-esteem. Prevention Researcher19(2), 17-20.
  7. Schwartz, S, Rhodes, J., Spencer, R., & Grossman, J. (2013). Youth initiated mentoring: Investigating a new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology52(1/2), 155-169.
  8. Spencer, R., Collins, M., Ward, R., & Smashnaya, S. (2010). Mentoring for young people leaving foster care: Promise and potential pitfalls. Social Work55(3), 225-234.
  9. Schwartz, S, Rhodes, J., Spencer, R., & Grossman, J. (2013). Youth initiated mentoring: Investigating a new approach to working with vulnerable adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology52(1/2), 155-169.
  10. Dang, M. & Miller, E. (2013). Characteristics of natural mentoring relationships from the perspectives of homeless youth. Journal of Child Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 26(20), 246-253.
  11. Tolan, P., Henry, D., Schoeny, M., Lovegrove, P., & Nichols, E. (2014). Mentoring programs to affect delinquency and associated outcomes of youth at risk: A comprehensive meta- analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology10(2), 179-206.   doi:10.1007/s11292-013-9181-4
  12. Walker, G. (2005). Youth mentoring and public policy. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring, 2-11.

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