When I would think of the homeless, I would not think of potential victims for sex trafficking. I thought of drug addiction, war veterans or of people that somehow lost track of their lives and forgot how to get back to the people that love them. Naively, I thought everyone had someone to go back to, someone who cared for them and wanted the best for them. However, in researching about sex trafficking, I came across several articles that recognized homeless and runaway youth as those who are at the mercy of sex traffickers. For the most part, young people who are forced to leave their homes are running away from physical, mental or sexual abuse.[i] Last year, the National Center for the Missing & Exploited Children recorded that of the 11,800 endangered runaways, one in five were likely victims of child sex trafficking.[ii]
Girls are likely to become victims between the ages of 12 and 14; boys and transgender youths are likely to become victims between the ages of 11 and 13.[iii] These children often grow up in broken and dysfunctional homes where love and affection are absent. Instead of protection, many times these children receive brutal treatment. Their self-esteem is beaten to the point of feeling unworthy of any respect or fair treatment. They are insulted, humiliated, threatened, yelled at, and isolated. They endure repeated sexual abuse, sometimes from several perpetrators. Domestic violence, along with the victim’s powerlessness to change their family situation, may lead them to start using drugs as a way to cope.
When abandoning their homes, they think that they will escape the cruelty of being unloved. Unfortunately, they encounter the dark world of domestic minor sex trafficking. Within 48 hours of being on their own, approximately one third will be recruited into selling sex.[iv] Most of these children come from horrific living conditions; thus, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of sex slavery. They find themselves vulnerable, desperate, and in need of surviving. They require basic needs like food and shelter; therefore, they give into ‘survival sex.’
In examining the structural and social factors that cause abandoned youth to succumb to a life of sex slavery, we can change our mindset and our preconceptions made about these helpless children. I, for instance, have learned that being prejudice may lead to erroneous conclusions. Many of us may have looked the other way and denied ourselves the opportunity to help. It may be that the assumptions made in regards to the homeless are what is preventing us from aiding and reaching out to them. If we resisted the temptation of viewing homeless youth as a problem, then perhaps there would not be over one million of our youth living on the streets each year in the United States.[v]
Statistics Concerning Consequences of Homelessness[vi]
Consequence: Unsafe Sexual Practices
- More than one third of homeless youth engage in survival sex.
- 75% of youth who engage in survival sex report only doing so while they are homeless.
- Of the youth who engage in survival sex:
- 82% trade sex for money.
- 48% trade sex for food or a place to stay.
- 22% trade sex for drugs.
- Homeless youth are 7 times as likely to die from AIDS and 16 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV as the general youth population.
- There are 162,000 homeless youth estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States.
Contributing Writer, Two Wings
[i] “Human Trafficking and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Population.” The National Network for Youth. Web. 21 May 2016.
[ii] “Key Facts about the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.” The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Web. 21 May 2016.
[iii] Jordan, Jodi, Bina Patel, and Lisa Rapp. “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: A Social Work Perspective On Misidentification, Victims, Buyers, Traffickers, Treatment, And Reform Of Current Practice.” Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment 23.3 (2013): 356-369. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 20 May 2016.
[iv] “Consequences of Youth Homlessness.” The National Network for Youth. Web. 21 May 2016.
[v] “How Many Homeless Youth are in America?” The National Network for Youth. Web. 31 May 2016.
[vi] “Consequences of Youth Homlessness.” The National Network for Youth. Web. 21 May 2016.