Sex trafficking is the crime of using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to sell sex. Common types include escort services, pornography, illicit massage businesses, brothels, and outdoor solicitation.

Labor trafficking is the crime of using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to work or provide service. Common types include agriculture, domestic work, restaurants, cleaning services, and carnivals.

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. Research from numerous studies has 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:

  • Engaging in survival sex to meet basic needs, including clothing, food, and shelter.
  • Homelessness and trafficking begin early, often well before age 18.
  • Girls and young women are more likely to experience trafficking, but boys and young men also experience high levels of trafficking.
  • When sex trafficking victims were asked what could have helped prevent their being trafficked, the most common response was having supportive parents or family members.
  • 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.

What You Need To Know

  • One in five runaway and homeless youth are a victim of human trafficking- inclusive of sex and labor trafficking.
  • 68 percent of the youth who had either been trafficked or engaged in survival sex or commercial sex had done so while homeless.
  • LGBTQ youth and youth who have been in foster care experience trafficking at higher rates than other youth.

  • 81 percent of labor trafficking cases involved forced drug dealing, often occurring as a result of familial and cultural coercion as well as pressure from suppliers and gangs.
  • Survivors of childhood sexual abuse experiencing homelessness are at particularly high risk for sex trafficking