Homelessness and Sex Trafficking Go Hand-in-Hand
By Dr. Madye Henson
Homelessness can often be the door into a life of sex trafficking.
One night on the street is the fastest way homeless youth enter the homeless to sex trafficking pipeline. In a recent study of Covenant House youth in three cities, the University of Pennsylvania and The Field Center found an alarming 22 percent of all homeless youth were approached by sex traffickers on their very first night of being homeless. An astounding 67 percent of homeless females reported being solicited for paid sex. Without a home and the love of a caring adult, homeless youth are too often manipulated into a life of sexual exploitation. Complicating this further, traffickers can use the internet as a reliable tool to help them generate a lucrative and steady income exploiting youth that may go unnoticed by authorities.
Covenant House Washington believes that important ways to greatly reduce youth sex trafficking is to first increase the amount of beds available to youth without safe housing — then support youth to further their education, put caring adults in their lives and increase community awareness so everyone can take part in reporting suspicious behaviors.
Each given night, our organization provides safe housing to over 100 homeless youth and their children. The importance of safe housing is critical; a total of 41 percent of the youth in the study lacked steady living arrangements when they were introduced to sex trafficking.
Socioeconomic factors directly play a critical role in youth homelessness and sex trafficking, too. To be frank, the cost of living in Washington, D.C. and other major cities is unbearable for low-income individuals. It is reported that a salary of $80,273 is required to live a comfortable life in D.C. Obtaining close to that level of income is near impossible without education and career credentials. According to the study, 67 percent of homeless youth that were introduced to sex trafficking lacked a high school diploma. Our organization offers Adult Basic Education courses to homeless youth, as well as preparation for the GED, that, once passed, will now be converted to a high school diploma in D.C. This is one thing that will help youth establish a more secure foundation after leaving programs like ours.
The study, which included interviews of close to 300 homeless youth in Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., brought other sobering statistics to light. Ninety-five percent of youth who were trafficked for sex reported a history of child maltreatment, with 49 percent reporting a history of childhood sexual abuse. Thirty-nine percent of those who were trafficked identified as LGTBQ youth, with transgender youth having the highest incidence.
There is an upside, though: Youth who reported having the presence of a supportive adult in their lives and completing high school were less likely to be trafficked.
To eliminate youth sex trafficking, it is mandatory that we end youth homelessness. More dollars need to be spent in providing safe beds for youth who don’t have a stable place to put their heads at night. This is a community issue, and we members of the community must actively report things that we see that aren’t right.
Dr. Madye Henson is president and CEO of Covenant House Washington.