Objective: Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation constitutes about 59% of detected victims of trafficking, which makes it the most prevalent form of human exploitation globally. In the existing literature, there is a lack of a precise and consistent conceptualization of this phenomenon, which poses a significant challenge in its study. The purpose of this inquiry is to fill in the gap in the existing literature by identifying and analyzing existing operational definitions of sex trafficking pertinent to psychological scholarly literature. Methods: Meta-ethnographic approach to qualitative research was utilized in this study. To identify pertinent literature, a systematic review of the scholarly articles across multiple ProQuest databases took place. A specific emphasis was placed on scientific literature inquiring into sex trafficking in the adult (>18) population. Results: The results of the study indicated that 33% of the publications utilized operational definition of sex trafficking provided by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA), followed by 30% provided by Palermo Protocol. A significant portion of publication (30%) did not employ a definition. Conclusions: The overall findings suggest that the most salient characteristics of sex trafficking employed in definitions were the presence of act of recruitment, harboring and transportation with the means of coercion, force, fraud and deception for the purpose of the commercial sex act.


Eric Sprankle

Committee Member

Angelica Aguirre

Committee Member

Dennis Waskul

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)




Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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