Purpose: A growing number of sexually exploited young runaway Hmong girls in the Midwest prompted a multi-agency intervention designed to address mental health issues, reduce risky behaviors, promote reproductive health, and help re-connect these vulnerable girls to family and school. The purpose was to evaluate outcomes at 3 months vs. baseline for girls enrolled during the first 6 months of the project.
Methods: Study design: Prospective quasi-experimental repeated measures study with subjects serving as their own controls.
Participants: Runaway girls 16 years, referred by police, clinic, or truancy program (N = 57), who screened positive for sexual abuse/exploitation (n = 37), and have completed at least 3 months of intervention (n = 24), 92% Hmong.
Intervention: Strengths-based approach to nurse home visits and case management, clinic or school-based Hmong weekly empowerment groups, and truancy intervention services.
Measures: Drug use, sexual & delinquent behaviors, repeat victimization, self-esteem, suicidality, emotional distress, trauma symptoms, family and school connectedness, STIs, pregnancy, truancy & runaway episodes.
Analyses: Paired t-tests, McNemar tests, and Wilcoxon sign ranks per variable type, within-subject baseline vs. 3 months.
Results: Family and school connectedness, and self-esteem all significantly improved (all p < .05), truancy and vandalism declined, as did number of sexual partners, number of types of drugs used, and repeat chlamydia or other STI infections (all p < .01). 13% were re-victimized, which was associated with suicidal ideation and attempts and increased trauma symptoms and emotional distress for these girls, but overall, family physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence declined (p < .05). 42% reported no sexual partners; of the rest, 85% were now using effective contraception methods who had not at baseline (all p < .05 or less). There were no pregnancies. Runaway episodes declined by self-report, but this was not significant (p < .115).
Conclusions: Sexually exploited predominantly Hmong runaway younger girls who received 3 months of this multi-agency intervention reported significant improvement in mental and physical health, reduced risk behaviors, greater connectedness to family and school, and positive health behaviors vs. prior to intervention. Strengths-based approaches appear to work in a number of areas to improve the health of this high risk population.