Youth and young adults who experience homelessness may also be survivors of sex or labor trafficking in cities, suburbs, rural communities, and American Indian Reservations across the country. Numerous studies have found trafficking rates among youth and young adults experiencing homelessness range from 19% to 40%.
Some youth experiencing homelessness are even more vulnerable to trafficking than these numbers suggest, and interviews with youth illustrate some common themes and pathways:
- Lack of basic needs, such as not having a safe place to sleep at night, often play a role in their trafficking experiences.
- Early trauma, such as homelessness and exploitation, begins early, often well before age 18.
- LGBTQ+ youth are particularly vulnerable and experience trafficking at higher rates than other youth experiencing homelessness.
- Youth who have been in foster care also experience trafficking at higher rates than other youth experiencing homelessness.
- Youth experiencing homelessness who have also been victims of sex trafficking are more likely to have mental health and substance use issues, to have experienced physical and emotional abuse by parents or guardians, and to have a history of sexual abuse.
Using this research, policymakers, service providers, and advocates can and must bring about change to meet young people’s basic needs to prevent and address homelessness and trafficking.