“Trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability.” In this blog series, we’re discussing four key triggers that make a person more vulnerable to sex trafficking. The first factor that we discussed was foster care.
This week we’re discussing what is quite possibly the most obvious factor: homelessness.
Homeless youth are particularly at risk because of their obvious need for shelter and other basic essentials. Here are some numbers to show the gravity of the situation:
- Nationally, as many as 2.4 million children run away from home each year.
- 1 out of every 3 homeless teens will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
- A study at Covenant House in NYC found that almost 1 out of every 4 homeless young people interviewed were at some point in their lives either victims of trafficking or had engaged in survival sex.
- 28% of youth living on the street and 10% of those in shelters engage in 'survival sex' in exchange for food, shelter, or money.
Beyond the staggering numbers, there are other factors to consider as to why homeless youth are so at-risk for sex trafficking. Let’s look at two of these factors:
FACTOR #1: THEIR PHYSICAL NEEDS TRUMP THEIR EMOTIONAL NEEDS.
It goes without saying that the needs of shelter, protection, food, and water come first. Those are the basic elements of staying alive. Let’s explore a scenario. Our headquarters is located in Green Bay, WI. If it’s the middle of January and it’s -30 degrees outside, which do you think a young person will choose: sleeping in the mall parking lot overnight, or sleeping with a man/men for a warm place to rest her head? This is called survival sex and this is how many young people are lured into prostitution.
Such is the story of our dear friend, Sarah, who is a trafficking survivor and has tirelessly worked with ladies in all forms of the sex industry in Green Bay since 2008 through More Precious Than Rubies. Sarah was a runaway, kicked out of her house by her mother, and taken in by a group of people. When telling us her story, she said “It didn’t take long for me to figure out how I would earn my stay…” It wasn’t rocket science for Sarah: she could have her dignity, or she could survive, but should couldn’t have both.
FACTOR #2: THEY ARE RUNNING FOR A REASON.
I think that most of us considered running away from home as children. One time around the age of seven, my brother made me so upset that I packed up my favorite toys, a soccer ball, and a couple of shirts in a pillow case and started out the door. I only made it to the end of the driveway before I changed my mind - but that didn’t mean that the conflict I was running from went away.
All too often, runaway teens - often called “throwaway teens” - are dismissed as rebellious, belligerent, and difficult. Sure, they’re not the easiest to work with. But as service providers and community members we must open our hearts to the question, “what are they running from?” - because every one of them is running from something. We heard one survivor quoted as saying “my trafficker and the people in the life treated me better than I was ever treated at home…” That is the frightening reality of so many.
We recently worked with a young woman with a similar story. She wasn’t far from aging out of the system when we came into contact with her. When we encountered her through law enforcement, we talked with her for quite a while, but it didn’t take us long to realize why she’d been on the run for over two years. She had two options: go to an emergency shelter two hours from home while we looked for permanent placement, or go home to her parents. We sat with her when she called her parents and as the tears rolled down her cheeks, we could hear the abusive screams on the other side of the phone. Needless to say, she chose the shelter.
This is one of the many reasons why we're grateful for our friends at Open Door Youth Services in Green Bay. They provide supportive services to runaway, throwaway, homeless, and at-risk youth and their families in Brown County. They are an invaluable resource for at-risk youth in Green Bay!
The issues plaguing our young people are numerous and severe. Let’s join together to provide safe places for these young people to heal from the trauma that has led them to the streets, which ultimately sets them at risk for a world of pain and abuse that no child deserves.