Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Stephanie Hartwell

Second Advisor

Megan Klein Hattori

Third Advisor

Keith Bentele


Under the United States definition of sex trafficking, one is considered a sex trafficking victim if she or he sells sex under 18 years old. Once someone turns 18, in order to claim trafficking status force, fraud, or coercion must be proven or that person falls under the illegal status of sex worker (VTVPA 2000). If one can go from being a victim of a crime to a perpetrator of a crime by having a birthday, what does the transition to adulthood and turning 18 look like for those who sell or exchange sex or are at risk of selling and exchanging sex? And how might institutional factors change upon the transition to adulthood that contribute to a pathway of selling sex? Using a life course perspective, this study explores the transition to adulthood for individuals who have sold or exchanged sex at any point in their lives to determine what role the institutions of the family, education system, work/economy, and the criminal justice have on this population along the life course and during the transition to adulthood. The study includes interviews with service providers working with individuals who have sold or exchanged sex in the City of Boston (N=13) and an original online national survey of individuals who have sold or exchanged sex (N=97). Using qualitative and quantitative data, results analyzed include an event history analysis of the predictors and timing for entering the commercial sex trade, discussion of labels about sex trafficking and sex work, and qualitative analysis from both service provider interviews and survey questions from individuals who have sold or exchanged sex. Life events through the stages of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood are framed as institutional influences to better understand the barriers and supports that exist for this population throughout the life course and where pathways into the commercial sex trade are formed.