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James Smalley,
Ph.D., LISW, Assistant Professor of Social Work, South West Minnesota State University


Christine Black-Hughes,
Ph.D., LICSW, Associate Professor of Social Work, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Rural Human Prevention Intervention Analysis

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime Prevention (2016) defined sexual exploitation as “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another”. The My Life My Choice curriculum (MLMC) is a US based acclaimed 10-session curriculum that provides concrete, well-researched methods for reaching vulnerable adolescent girls (Justice Resource Institute, 2015). In this study, the MLMC curriculum was implemented in rural area to determine its potential for success within the rural setting. This study analyzed the pre- and post-test results of the participants to find if the participants learned from the curriculum. One major limitation from the curriculum was the use of an urban setting for the curriculum that was not realistic for rural youth. Professionals utilizing prevention interventions must remember person in the environment (P.I.E.). And, adapt curriculum to the target population or in this case reflect trafficking in rural settings.

The purpose of this analysis of an exploitation prevention program in rural Minnesota is to determine if the My Life My Choice (MLMC) curriculum provided to girls who reside in Southwest and South Central rural Minnesota educated them about community resources and skills to prevent sexual exploitation. The MLMC curriculum is a proactive program designed to reduce sexual exploitation of girls (Justice Resource Institute, 2015). The MLMC curriculum participants were taught recruitment tactics, primary and secondary prevention resources, and the location of support systems to help a victim leave the commercial sex industry (Justice Resource Institute, 2015).

Previous research (Schauer & Weaton, 2006; Perkins & Ruiz, 2016; Cole & Sprang, 2014) has shown that sex trafficking and exploitation exists in both urban and rural parts of the United States. Minnesota is no exception to this problem as exploitation has been found throughout the state. Previous research (Barnitz, 2001; Rafferty, 2013; Karaz, 2016) has also found those most vulnerable are youth who are homeless, in out of home placement, or come from abusive situations.

This analysis of the pre-and post-test of the MLMC curriculum was to find if the participants of MLMC groups learned about recruitment tactics, primary and secondary prevention resources, and support systems to avoid being sexually exploited or to leave an exploitation situation. The authors hypothesized there will be little difference between how rural youth and urban youth experiencing sexual exploitation and learning through the curriculum. The urban information came from the Chin (2014) research while this is the first research conducted for the MLMC curriculum in a rural setting.

The study of the MLMC curriculum in rural Minnesota found participants gained knowledge about trafficking and exploitation as well as resources in their community to help victims of exploitation. In the story that is part of the curriculum, participants could identify that the victim in the story was exploited, that the “boyfriend” in the story was really a pimp, and that the pimp was going to exploit the victim from their initial meeting. These items all show statistically significant changes between the pre- and post-tests of the participants. One of the major limitations found in this study was the story that is used in the curriculum. The story was based in an urban area and had an urban focus to the trafficking. However, as found by Cole and Sprang (2014) and Perkins and Ruiz (2016), rural sexual exploitation looks different from urban sexual exploitation.

The social service agency (SSA) staff person who implements the MLMC curriculum covers the following counties in Southwest and South Central Minnesota: Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, LeSueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock, Sibley and Watonwan. The MLMC curriculum was offered to school districts within these counties. The staff person implemented a pre-and post-test to the participants of the MLMC educational groups ensured the researchers that state and federal regulations regarding data collection with vulnerable populations were followed. The staff coded the pre-and post-test surveys. The codes consisted of a specific numeric code for each participant and school district. The participants’ ages ranged from 14 to 19 years old.

This analysis of the pre-and post-test provides the SSA with the knowledge of whether the participants of the educational groups learned about recruitment tactics, prevention resources, and support systems to leave the commercial sex industry. The participants completed the curriculum and completed the post-test to verify material learned. The pre- and post-test were developed by the Justice Resource Institute (2015), which owns the MLMC curriculum and provides the training to professionals who use the curriculum on a local level. The pre- and post-test provided participants opportunities for both qualitative and quantitative responses about their learning in the program.

This research study had a purposeful sampling of girls age 14-19 years old who were in high school in Southwest and Southern Minnesota. The participants had been categorized at “at-risk” by their schools. The researchers did not have access to how students were selected to participate in the groups, nor where the researchers made aware of how individual schools identified the “at-risk” girls for participation. The gender identity, racial demographic and specific school of the participants was not given to the researchers and/or not collected in the survey. The MLMC curriculum has been shown to help youth understand the risks and tactics used by those involved in trafficking. The research conducted for this study confirms that the participants had an increase in knowledge regarding their ability to identify the pimp and in the timing of when the pimp planned to exploit the victim. The participants also showed an increase in their knowledge of resources available within the participants’ communities.

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The quantitative findings demonstrate clear differences between Chin’s (2014) research and this study. Chin (2014) demonstrated McNemar statistical significance in participant’s personal exposure factors, knowledge of recruitment tactics factors, selling sex attitudes factors, and knowledge of community resources. The rural data does not show a personal exposure to exploitation as reflected in the MLMC story. The differences between these studies show a need for discussions on the distinctions between rural and urban sexual exploitation clarifying the differences between urban and rural sexual exploitation. The differences also show the need for social workers to use a person-in-environment (P.I.E.) approach when working with victims of exploitation to understand how exploitation presents differently in different parts of the country.

One of the primary distinctions was the geographical location of the participants. Chin’s (2014) study occurred in a New Jersey metropolitan area and the participants of this study reside in a rural area. According to Cole and Sprang (2014) and Perkins and Ruiz (2016) people in rural areas who commercially exploit children are often known to the victim. Cole and Sprang (2014) and Perkins and Ruiz (2016) noted that people who commercially exploit children in rural areas often receive material goods rather than money for sex with children. The researchers of this study affirmed statements by Cole and Sprang (2014) and Perkins and Ruiz (2026) that rural exploitation is not for monetary gain, rather for material goods or basic needs; for example, a parental figure selling a child for food or shelter. It must be acknowledged that there is extremely little literature that identifies the rural versus the metropolitan commercial exploiter. Cole and Sprang (2014) found that rural sexual exploitation might be different from exploitation that occurs in metropolitan regions; they also found that most often the perpetrator of the exploitation (pimp) was a family member, which seems to imply that prevention materials need to reflect this information. The Cole and Sprang (2014) finding of the perpetrator most often being a family member is not the story (Anna and Junior) used in the MLMC curriculum.

This research set out to verify that participants of the MLMC curriculum learn about recruitment tactics, primary and secondary prevention resources, and support systems to avoid being sexually exploited or to leave an exploitation situation. Though the qualitative and quantitative data from the research, this was achieved. The authors also believed there would be little difference between rural and urban participants of the MLMC curriculum. This, however, is where the data diverged. This research shows the need for more focus on rural sexual exploitation when conducting the curriculum as well as further research on rural sexual exploitation in general. The lack of connection between the Chin (2014) research and this research shows that developing a rural aspect to the curriculum would be beneficial to participants. One major limitation from the curriculum was the use of an urban setting for the curriculum that was not realistic for rural youth. Professionals utilizing prevention interventions must remember P.I.E. And, adapt curriculum to the target population or in this case reflect trafficking in rural settings.


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Chin, S.E. (2015). Prevent child abuse New Jersey’s “My Life My Choice” program data analysis: Assessing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of youth with increased risk of domestic minor sex trafficking in New Jersey; 2014 (Unpublished master’s thesis). Rutgers University School of Public Health, New Brunswick, NJ
Cole, J. & Sprang, G. (2014). Sex trafficking of minors in metropolitan, micropolitan, and rural communities. Child Abuse & Neglect, 40, 113-123. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.07.015 Justice Resource Institute. (2015). My Life My Choice. Boston. Retrieved from http://jri.org/services/community/ml mc
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Karaz, K. (2016). Psychosocial variables common among child victims of sex trafficking. St. Catherine University/University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. Retrieved from http://sophia.stkate.edu/msw_paper s/613
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