Moving Towards Self-actualization: A Trauma-Informed and Needs-Focused Approach to the Mental Health Needs of Survivors of Commercial Child Sexual Exploitation

Julie Anne Laser-Maira, Donna Peach, Charles E. Hounmenou


There is increasing evidence that children who are subject to commercial child sexual exploitation (CCSE) are likely to experience complex mental health needs. Failure to address the trauma experienced by victims of CCSE can lead to suicide attempts, self-harm, and long-term mental health needs (Powell, Asbill, Louis, & Stoklosa, 2018). A ‘trauma-informed’ approach (TIA) creates a responsive environment that improves the motivation of victims of CCSE to seek treatment and service providers to address unmet needs. Merging Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs with a TIA approach provides a comprehensive framework to assess the service requirements necessary to meet CCSE survivors’ needs. Particularly, when Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model is coupled with contemporary extensions, which address our greater understanding of the neurological impact of abuse on physiological well-being greater resilience can be created. Additionally, a TIA instigates a shift from victims of CCSE being viewed as damaged, to an understanding of the impact abusive experiences have had on their development. That approach permits them and others to perceive their “survivorhood” and develop their capacity to achieve self-actualization. This paper critically examines what is constituted as best practice in trauma-informed mental health service delivery to not only meet needs but to support CCSE survivors’ attainment of self-actualization.

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