Ambiguous Agency as a Diagnostic of Power: Efforts of Child Welfare Providers to Promote Responsible Agency Among Youth Involved in Sex Trades

Laura Johnson, Beth Sapiro, Catherine Buttner, Judy L. Postmus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ambiguous agency is a term which has been used to describe the ways in which young people demonstrate their agency in ways that challenge traditional ideas about how youth are supposed to behave. State and nongovernmental actors, such as service providers, generally view these behaviors as deviant and have utilized a variety of interventions to transform these youth so that they engage in acts of responsible agency instead. This article will explore how the concept of ambiguous and responsible agency relate to youth involved in sex trades by analyzing the case records of eight youth who were identified as survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) by child protective services within New Jersey through this framework. Specifically, this study seeks to determine the views and perceptions of caseworkers related to ambiguous and responsible agency of these youth. Drawing on notions of agency, this manuscript provides new understandings about how youth involved in sex trades potentially exert their own limited power. Implications for the provision of services to youth involved in sex trades and research are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-597
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2018



  • Adolescent
  • ambiguous agency
  • domestic minor sex trafficking
  • responsible agency
  • trauma
  • youth agency

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