Mentoring Models for Survivors of CSEC

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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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Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) need specialized mentoring services that are victim-centered and trauma-informed. Taking into consideration the unique needs and vulnerabilities of  CSEC survivors (or those at-risk for such abuse and exploitation), agencies must be thoughtful about the mentoring model they utilize. Though research on mentoring survivors of CSEC is limited, it has been shown to have a positive impact on youth with similar vulnerabilities. When done well, mentoring can be transformational, providing a model for healthy relationships and increasing positive educational, social, and emotional outcomes. There are various aspects of mentoring an organization needs to consider to inform their program approach, such as:

  • The overall intention of the mentoring program.
  • The existing programming into which it will be integrated.
  • The timeframe for program participation.

This will help determine the type of mentoring and activities that will be offered. 


What do we know?

There are many components of mentoring models giving programs options to decide what works best to meet the specific needs of their community and the youth they serve.

  • In the Mentoring Basics Module, two primary forms of mentoring are described, but there are additional features of mentoring to consider:
    • Forms: Natural (informal) or Assigned (formal): Natural mentoring occurs organically, often in the form of an older family member, coach, teacher, or connected adult. Assigned mentoring is set up and managed by an organization.
    • Location: Community-based or Site-based. Site-based mentoring may take place in a setting such as school or an after-school program.1
    • Purpose: Developmental or Prescriptive: Developmental mentoring focuses on overall positive youth development, whereas prescriptive mentoring includes specific goal-driven activities, such as tutoring, financial education, or employment.1

In considering mentoring programs, you may typically think of the combination of Assigned + Community-based + Developmental mentoring. However, mentoring may involve any combination of the above.1

  • Mentoring Types: Mentoring relationship types mentioned in the Mentoring Basics Module:
    • one adult, one youth
    • group mentoring (one adult with up to four youth)
    • team mentoring (multiple adults, multiple youth)
    • peer mentoring
    • e-mentoring

It’s possible that any of these approaches fit into the forms of mentoring mentioned above.

  • Mentor Types: Program mentor type may differ based on the needs of those served and resources available.
    • Community volunteers need considerable training on the realities of commercial sexual exploitation and street culture, the needs of their mentees, strategies for establishing trust, and how to be committed through ups and downs, and knowing that healing and progress are not linear. Research also suggests that training mentors to be “genuine, non-judgmental, caring, and collaborative in their approach” is essential.
    • Trained care providers were identified as a good option for mentors in serving youth victims/survivors.2 Though training is still necessary, the educational background of these volunteers provides a strong foundation.
    • Mentors built into programs (i.e. combining case management with mentoring) enable more consistent meetings.2 Formal staff mentors have reported having a “whatever it takes” attitude to help survivors, which may include providing transportation or other support.2  It is crucial to consider how mentors approach working with youth – is it just part of their job or is there an authentic relationship? Youth recognize when staff mentors are truly invested in them.
    • Survivor mentors should be highly considered, as they can often relate to the youth’s experience and help mentees rebuild trust. Survivor mentors also provide an example of a positive role model and display hope to overcome.2 Training and ongoing support are necessary for all mentors, including survivors.  In addition, agencies should assess the readiness of survivors to engage with a youth who has similar experiences.  It is critical to ensure that survivors feel ready and can openly communicate about support needs that emerge.3

Regardless of which type of mentor is used, connecting mentoring to a case manager may help the relationship’s longevity. The case manager (if not in a mentoring role themselves) can help coordinate the relationship and ensure the youth stays connected to other services.2

Activities/curriculum give mentors a foundation to begin their relationship. Later in the mentor/mentee relationship, the activities may happen more organically or spontaneously, however, this gives mentors a starting point.

  • Structure
    • Curriculum helps with structure (role play, skill building, and other activities.)4
    • This type of structure is helpful as mentors and mentees build a relationship4, as having curriculum or set of activities provides clear goals and activities for their time together.
    • Social/Civic action in mentoring can be important because youth often have negative experiences with systems and services in their community. Social participation offers them a positive experience and empowers them to be part of positive community change.5,6

So What?

What does it mean? Why is this information important?

When we are developing mentoring for young people who have experienced CSEC, intentionality is imperative.

  • CSEC issues to consider
    • Your program, staff, and mentors should have a basic understanding of human trafficking and CSEC. Regardless of which model you choose, your program should be trauma informed.
    • You should consider the benefits and challenges to each option. A few considerations to keep in mind:
      • CSEC survivors have experienced trauma, powerlessness, lack of safety, and often struggle to trust others due to their experiences of exploitation.7,8,9 Think intentionally about how these realities will affect mentoring relationships. A few examples:
        • In regards to safety, where are mentees and mentors physically meeting? Consider what may feel safest to mentees, e.g. meeting at the program building, rather in the community to 1) not be alone with mentor and 2) avoid areas of your community in which they have been exploited.
        • With experiences of powerlessness and lack of trust - mentees may be uncomfortable meeting one to one, meaning group or team mentoring may be better (at least initially).
      • While some models may seem like the appropriate fit, you should always collaborate with the youth to meet their unique needs in efforts to be victim-centered and survivor-informed.7
  • Transformational relationships are key.2,10  Activities, trips, and events are encouraged in mentoring relationships, but there is no exact formula for this to be successful. The most important part is simply that genuine, transformational relationships are formed. Li & Julian (2012) have identified that creating meaningful relationships with youth is the most important component of a program. A well planned and structured program will not be as successful if relationships are not intentionally cultivated.
    • Trust is a key aspect to transformational relationships.2 Survivors may be slow to trust others as it is likely they have been exploited or harmed through past “trusting” relationships.
    • Relationships have been identified by research to be resilience factor.7 Survivors of CSEC have reported that a significant need in leaving or escaping their situation of exploitation was having the support of someone they could trust.11
    • With this in mind, choosing the “right” mentoring model is important. However, mentoring will only be successful when caring, strength-based, empowerment-focused, and consistent relationships are formed that enable a survivor to dispel fear and distrust due to their prior experiences.12
  • Blended Model
    • There has been research to show the benefit of intertwining traditional (one:one), and group or team mentoring to capitalize on the benefits of both.
      • Duetch et al., (2017) suggested that “group and one-on-one approaches may provide distinctive relational support from adults and peers, that may complement each other and meet adolescents’ needs more effectively than either alone” (p. 296).
      • Adolescence is a time when social development shifts to focus on peers13 and therefore groups can allow youth to build social skills and bond with their peers in a safe space.4,14 In addition, those who have experienced trauma may feel alone in their experiences and a group setting may allow them to connect to others with lived experiences, potentially dispelling feelings of differentness.15
      • Blended programs have seen positive outcomes from youth interacting with both mentors and peers, including building trust and increasing social competenence.16,17 Youth in blended programs may build trust by trying out how to respond to others. Peers and mentors in the group may offer feedback and model skills. Participating in a blended mentoring program has been shown to increase a youth’s capacity for self-regulation1,4 (a critical protective factor18).
    • Examples
      • Psychoeducational groups, though not thought of as a traditional mentoring model, may be a good option. A group like this offers survivors/mentees the opportunity to build relationships with their peers and multiple staff at one time. As survivors have experienced isolation, distrust of others and systems19, this mentoring model could be beneficial in building community with peers and staff as survivors navigate building a new life. For example, WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking’s psychoeducational group Survivor Sister’s Saving Ourselves is a group aimed at holistic, long-term healing in all areas of life.
      • Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) is a school-based setting where mentors are chosen through a college program. This mixed mentoring model matches a mentor with a mentee and they (along with other matches) meet in a group once a week and spend up to 4 hours a month one-on-one. This program includes structured activities with a priority on relationships.4
      • STEP UP is a program with Big Brothers Big Sisters that combines multiple mentoring models into one.6 It is a team mentoring program (multiple adults and multiple youth) that provides fluidity between mentors and mentees. All mentors build relationships with youth. Structure of group allows for natural mentoring relationships to form - mentors have to be open to mentoring multiple youth at a time. This varied form of natural mentoring with STEP UP allows youth to have choices in their interactions as they are forming relationships with a mentor, their peers, and other positive adults.
      • The benefit of these models is that mentees get to know and trust peers in a safe space, learn to work in groups, and it allows multiple adult to youth relationships, in addition to giving youth the autonomy to choose a mentor. With the addition of survivor mentors, variations of these models could work well with survivors of CSEC.

Now What?

What are the implications? What can we do?

Mentoring Practice Implications

  • Individuals
    • Commitment is key in mentoring and is even more crucial when working with CSEC survivors. Before you begin a mentoring relationship, evaluate, and consider how much time you can give.
    • Continue to learn and seek out ways you can expand your knowledge of mentoring, trauma, CSEC, and other information that will help you better understand the circumstances your mentee is experiencing or has experienced.
    • Take care of yourself. Giving of ourselves, our time, and our energy can be exhausting. This is amplified when working with youth who have faced immense trauma. Be sure to identify support people in your life and implement a self-care plan20 (bonus – make a self-care plan with your mentee!)
  • Service Providers
    • There is not a magic model. Rather, it’s important  to examine the unique considerations of the youth you serve, the capacity of your organization, and community resources.
      • What are the needs of the youth you serve? Where do you see them? Do they need further support in school or would a more general mentoring relationship be ideal? What have they shared that would be helpful in identifying a good fit?
      • What is the capacity of your community? Do you have access to mentors with backgrounds in the helping profession? Or do you need to invest in training community volunteers?
      • With all this in mind, this tool was created to help you determine the mentoring model that will work best for your community.
  • Communities
    • In an ideal world, mentoring organizations would not need to exist. Youth would find their mentors in their homes, families, schools, and communities organically. While supporting mentoring organizations, communities can also invest in community programs like recreation clubs, faith communities, sports, and other group community organizations where mentoring relationships also occur naturally.



  1. Anastasia, T., Skinner, R., and Mundhenk, S. (2012). Youth mentoring: Programs and mentor best practices. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 104(2), 38-44.
  2. DuBois, D.L., Felnder, J.K. (2016). Mentoring for youth with backgrounds of involvement in commercial sex activity. National Mentoring Resource Center, 1-23.
  3. Countryman-Roswurm, K. (2015). Rise, unite, support: Doing “no harm” in the anti-trafficking movement. Slavery Today, 2(1), 26-47.
  4. Duetch, N., Reitz-Krueger, C., Henneberger, A., Erhlich, V., & Lawrence, E. (2017). “It gave me ways to solve problems and ways to talk to people”: Outcomes from a combined group and one-on-one mentoring program for early adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(3), 291-322. doi: 10.1177/07435584186630813
  5. Bulanda, J. & Johnson, T. B. (2016).  A trauma-informed model for empowerment programs targeting vulnerable youth.  Child Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33, 303-312. doi: 10.1007/s10560-015-0427-z.
  6. Cawood, N. & Wood, J. (2014). Group mentoring: The experience of adolescent mentees on probation.  Social Work with Groups, 37, 123-229. doi: 10.1080/01609513.2013.862895.
  7. 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 Security, 1(1), pg. 1-8.
  8. Office of Justice Programs. (n.d.). Human Trafficking Task Force e-Guide.…
  9. Countryman-Roswurm, K., & Bolin, B. (April, 2014). Domestic minor sex trafficking: Assessing and reducing risk. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 31, 2. DOI 10.1007/s10560-014-0336-6.
  10. Li. J. & Julian, M. (2012). Developmental relationships as the active ingredient: A unifying working hypothesis of “what works” across intervention settings. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82, 157-166.
  11. Rosenblatt, K. (2014). Determining the vulnerability factors, lures and recruitment methods used to entrap American children into sex trafficking. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL
  12. Countryman-Roswurm, K., & Shaffer, V. (2015). It’s more than just my body that got hurt: The psychophysiological consequences of sex trafficking. Journal of Trafficking, Organized crime and security, 1(1): 1-8.
  13. Rhodes, J. E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  14. Herrera, C., Vang, Z., & Gale, L. Y. (2002). Group mentoring: A study of mentoring groups in three programs. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.
  15. Westhues, A., Clarke, L., Watton, J., & Claire-Smith, S. S. (2001). Building positive relationships: An evaluation of process and outcomes in a Big Sister program. Journal of Primary Prevention, 21, 477-493. doi:10.1023/A:1007110912146
  16. Weiler, L. M., Zimmerman, T. S., Haddock, S., & Krafchick, J. (2014). Understanding the experience of mentor families in therapeutic youth mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(1), 80-98. doi:10.1002/jcop.21595
  17. Kuperminc, G. P., & Thomason, J. D. (2013). Group mentoring. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed., pp. 273-289). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
  18. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015). Promoting protective factors for in-risk families and youth: A guide for practitioners. [Factsheet]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from
  19. Countryman-Roswurm, K. (2014). Who’s pimpin’ now?: How our system is exploiting the exploited (pp. 51-56). In R. Ross (2015). Girls in Justice. Santa Barbara, CA: Image of Justice.
  20. Countryman-Roswurm, K. (2016, January 21). Reflections on the power of mentoring with survivors of abuse and exploitation. Retrieved from…

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