Covenant House recently released the study Homelessness, Survival Sex and Human Trafficking: As Experienced by the Youth of Covenant House New York.
In interviews with almost 200 randomly selected homeless youth in New York over the last year, researchers at Covenant House and Fordham University found that almost half — 48% in total — of those who engaged in commercial sexual activity said they did it because they did not have a place to stay. Almost one out of every four homeless young people interviewed were at some point in their lives either victims of trafficking or had engaged in survival sex (trading sex acts to meet basic needs like food or shelter).
That is disgraceful, and a wake up call to all of us, including all of us at Covenant House, that we have to be prepared to respond to the needs of victims by making sure we do everything in our power to help them leave the streets safely and permanently. For advocates working with homeless youth across the United States, the study is a thunder clap – the fight against human trafficking is ours.
We cannot effectively end the exploitation of young people if we do not focus on the root causes and conditions of their vulnerability. And that means we have to ensure stable housing for many more kids than we currently do, so they won’t have to make impossible choices between shelter and dignity, between shelter and innocence, between shelter and safety. The nation’s expanding state and federal anti-trafficking coalitions must build agendas that go beyond a criminal justice response for traffickers; we need robust prevention initiatives. We need to keep kids safe from sexual abuse, promote firm family ties, and ensure kids are equipped, through housing, education and job training, to live safely and independently when they are old enough.
Of course every young person deserves a future of opportunity, one free from sexual exploitation. But keeping them safe from the predators who lurk in the darkest corners of society is going to require that we get real about the causes of human trafficking and start building more bridges from homelessness to hope.
Learn more at Kevin M. Ryan’s Huffington Post article: New Study Reveals Vulnerability of Homeless Youth to Trafficking.