Date of Award

Spring 6-2-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Chitra Raghavan

Second Reader

Emily Haney-Caron

Third Advisor

Lisa R. Fischel-Wolovick


Sex trafficking, as defined by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (2000), occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to trap their target into exploitative commercial sex work. However, the fraudulent and coercive tactics traffickers use during the initial stages further obscure the exploitative nature of these relationships leading to trafficked women being victimized as criminals or simply overlooked. Basra et al. (2022) proposed a new framework—Predatory Helpfulness—to provide more cohesive terminology with which to organize, assess, and understand how traffickers form relationships with their intended victims. In this study, I used a mixed-methods design to evaluate the application of the Predatory Helpfulness framework in a geographically and ethnically diverse sample of sex trafficking survivors (n = 59). Results showed strong support for the presence of Predatory Helpfulness tactics. Specifically, 58 of the 59 participants reported experiences matching Predatory Helpfulness grooming and recruitment tactics; 50 of the 59 participants also spontaneously identified a shift between the grooming and recruitment stages. Additionally, findings support the idea that traffickers are far more likely to prevail upon those in crisis and quickly (i.e., within six months) move to shift the relationship into exploitation. In sum, Predatory Helpfulness offers a clear way for legal actors to identify sex trafficking targets using both the federal legal definitions and survivors’ own language and narratives.



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