Principal Investigator

Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire (UNH)


David Finkelhor, PhD, Crimes against Children Research Center, UNH; Lisa M. Jones, PhD, Crimes against Children Research Center, UNH; Jennifer O’Brien, PhD, Department of Social Work, UNH; James Green, Westat, Inc.

Research Team

Alli Adams, Gabriela Crinigan, Leanne Gast, Gina Kahn, Allison Parker, Lesley Stein, Elissa Wiener


LEA-CST is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, award 2020-MU-CX-0041.

Goals of the Study

The overall goal of the National Law Enforcement Agency Child Sex trafficking (LEA-CST) Study is to assess and document the extent that law enforcement has been changing practices to child sex trafficking investigations from a delinquency-oriented response to a victim-centered approach.

Specific objectives of LEA-CST are to:

  • Assess the overall numbers of CST cases that came to the attention of law enforcement in 2021 including those involving arrests, detentions, and alternatives to arrest.
  • Describe law enforcement progress toward and barriers encountered in adopting a victim-centered response for juveniles involved in sex trafficking.
  • Examine whether there are ethnic, racial or sexual minority subgroups of youth who are disproportionately represented among sex trafficking arrests.
  • Translate findings to inform CST training programs


The core methodology consists of four phases:

  1. A Pilot Phase involved a review, refinement, and testing of the survey instruments in collaboration with an Expert Advisory Group (EAG) consisting of advocates, practitioners, survivors, and law enforcement investigators.  To further refine the survey instruments, this phase also entailed interviews with a purposive sample of community agency key informants to identify crucial police and community policy issues. This was followed with a pilot test of the revised mail survey with 100 LEAs.
  2. A National Law Enforcement Agency-Level Mail Survey Phase which involves a mail survey with a nationally representative sample of 3,000 LEAs to determine which had CST cases that ended with arrests, detentions, or diversions during 2021.
  3. A Case-Level Telephone Survey Phase involving telephone interviews with investigators about the characteristics of specific cases (N=1,000) reported in the mail surveys.
  4. A Translation Phase to integrate current study findings into existing CST training programs for LEAs.

Impact of the study

  1. Provide a national picture of law enforcement responses to child sex trafficking in 2021.
  2. Provide national statistics about the number of cases, breakdown across at-risk populations, and the circumstances of the victims that can be widely used by advocates and policy makers in informing the public and allocating resources.
  3. Provide a community-level perspective on police practice and collaboration with victim-serving agencies.
  4. Identify whether there are important changes in offender demographics or methods.
  5. Identify where law enforcement efforts may be yielding some positive effects.
  6. Inform the development of up-to-date training for law enforcement on child sex trafficking.
  7. Identify the major barriers to greater law enforcement effectiveness in dealing with these crimes.


1. Mitchell K, Finkelhor D, Wolak J. Conceptualizing juvenile prostitution as child maltreatment: Findings from the National Juvenile Prostitution Study. Child Maltreatment. 2010;15(1):18-36.

2. Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D, Wolak J. Sex trafficking cases involving minors. In. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire; 2013.

3. Reid JA, Jones S. Exploited vulnerability: Legal and psychological perspectives on child sex trafficking victims. Victims and Offenders. 2011;6(2):207-231.

4. Barnert ES, Abrams S, Azzi VF, Ryan G, Brook R, Chung PJ. Identifying best practices for “Safe Harbor” legislation to protect child sex trafficking victims: Decriminalization alone is not sufficient. Child Abuse & Neglect. 2016;51:249-262.

For more information, contact:

Kimberly Mitchell, Ph.D.
Crimes against Children Research Center
University of New Hampshire
10 West Edge Drive, Ste. 106
Durham, NH 03824-3586
Phone (603)862-4533; Fax: (603)862-2899
Email: kimberly.mitchell@unh.edu

LEA-CST email: UNH.LEACST@unh.edu 
LEA-CST Ph: 833-249-4643