HOMELESS TEENS

TYPES OF HOMELESS TEENS

Researchers have identified four main categories of homeless youth: 1

  1. Situational runaways — Teens who run away but return home after a short time (largest group)

  2. Runaways — Teens who leave home for longer periods of time because of abuse or other serious problems in the household

  3. Throwaways — Teens who are homeless because they were told to leave home by their parents or caregiver or were abandoned by their parents or caregiver

  4. Systems youth — Teens who run away from social service institutions, such as foster homes, and don’t have contact with their family or who were separated from their family

 

Each of these four types of homeless teens is at risk of becoming trafficking victims in two different ways.

First, if they exchange sex for anything of value, they are considered trafficked victims because they are underage. This is the case even if no one is forcing them to sell sex. This is often referred to as “survival sex.”

Second, they are also the preferred target of many traffickers, who hunt them at bus stops, skate parks, homeless shelters and malls.

 

In fact, “91% of homeless teens reported being approached by someone who was offering an opportunity for income that was too good to be true. This included situations that turned into trafficking as well as other offers for commercial sexual exchanges, fraudulent commission-based sales, credit card scams, stolen phone sales, and check fraud.” 2

  1. Coward Bucher, C. “Toward a Needs-Based Typology of Homeless Youth.” 2008. Journal of Adolescent Health. 42;549–554

  2. Murphy, L. T. “Labor and sex trafficking among homeless youth: A ten-city study full report.” 2016. Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project. [In 2015-2016 researchers conducted interviews with 641 clients seeking services from Covenant Houses located in 10 major cities in the U.S. and Canada]

ABOUT UNDERAGE HOMELESS

​About running away

  • 14% of all teens will run away from home before the age of 18 4

    • 17% of 26,500 runaways reported in 2020 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely victims of sex trafficking 5

  • 60-81% of eventual trafficking victims had run away from home 6,7,8,9

  • 3 — average number of times homeless teens ran away from home 3

  • 15% had runaway 11 times or more 3

 

Of teens who ran away from home and were eventually trafficked: 10

  • 31% of girls and 29% of boys ran away from home 1-2 times

  • 37% of girls and 0% of boys and ran away from home 3-10 times

  • 21% of girls and 57% of boys ran away from home more than 10 times

 

How teens first became homeless 1

  • 51% had been asked to leave by a parent or caregiver

  • 25% had been unable to find a job

  • 24% were physically abused

  • 30% said they had the option of returning home

 

Before becoming homeless

  • 37-51% had spent time in foster care or group home 2,3

  • 72% said they had experienced major trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse or witnessing violence 1

 

LGBTQ+ demographics

  • 30% identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual 1

  • 7% identified as transgender 1

 

Life since running away

  • 12% spent 1-2 night per week on the street 3

  • 11% spent 4 or more nights per week on the street 3

  • 14% reported caring for children 1

  • 9-11% reported being pregnant 1,7

 

Mental health and substance use 1

  • 62% reported struggling with depression

  • 59% reported using alcohol in the past month

  • 55% reported using marijuana in the past month

  • 13% reported using heroin, cocaine or meth in the past month

  • 83% said they had healthy self-esteem

 

Victimization while homeless 1

  • 15% had been sexually assaulted or raped

  • 32% had been beaten up

  • 18% had been assaulted with a weapon

  • 41% had been threatened with a weapon

  • 41% had been robbed

  • For every additional month spent homeless, the likelihood of being victimized while homeless increased by 3%

 

Homeless teens said their biggest needs while on the street are: 1

  • 55% safe shelter

  • 55% education

  • 71% employment

  • 67% transportation

  • 60% clothing

  • 54% laundry facilities

  1. Les Whitbeck et al. “Street Outreach Program: Data Collection Project Executive Summary.” 2014. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska-Lincoln. [In 2013, 656 homeless young people — between the ages of 14-21— in 10 cities across the U.S. were interviewed for the project. They found that: 50.6% reported having stayed in foster care of a group home]

  2. Coates, J., & McKenzie-Mohr, S. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Trauma in the Lives of Homeless Youth Prior to and During Homelessness.” 2010. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. XXXVII; 4 [Interviewed 102 homeless teens in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island in Canada and found, average age of first homelessness was 16; 40% had been in foster care; 16% had been in the “sex trade”]

  3. Kort-Butler, L., & Tyler, K. “A cluster analysis of service utilization and incarceration among homeless youth.” 2012. Social Science Research. 41;612–623 [Interviewed 249 homeless teens — 137 females (55%) and 112 males (45%) — from ages 14 to 21 in shelters and on the streets in 2008-2009, and found: Most reported running away an average of 3 times, however, almost 15% of the sample had run 11 times or more; 12% spent an average of 1–2 nights per week on the street while 11% spent an average of 4 or more nights per week on the street; 48% had ever lived in a group home; 37% have spent time in foster care; an average of 19.75% reported trading sex for food, shelter, money or drugs]

  4. U.S. Congressional findings — Pub. L. 109–164, §2, Jan. 10, 2006, 119 Stat. 3558

  5. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children https://www.ecpatusa.org/statistics

  6. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 28(6) 491–511 [Of 79 DMST females who received social services from 2007-2012 in Florida, 60% had history of runaway behavior]

  7. Varma, S., et al. “Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect. 44:98-105 [The study compared sexually abused/assaulted adolescents to DMST youth, and the results showed 80.8% of DMST victims had history of running away from home; 10.5% has history of pregnancy; 75% has history with police; 69.9% has history of drug use]

  8. Reid, J., et al. “No Youth Left Behind to Human Trafficking: Exploring Profiles of Risk.” 2018. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 89; 6, 704–715 [Of 913 adolescents in Florida who were arrested between 2007 and 2015 and determined to be trafficking victims, 45.5% had history of chronic running away of more than 5 times]

  9. Murphy, L. T. “Labor and sex trafficking among homeless youth: A ten-city study full report.” 2016. Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project. [In 2015-2016 researchers conducted interviews with 641 clients seeking services from Covenant Houses located in 10 major cities in the U.S. and Canada, and found 29% of trafficking victims had a history of involvement in the foster system]

  10. Edinburgh, L., Pape-Blabolil, J., Harpin, S., and Saewyc, E. “Assessing exploitation experiences of girls and boys seen at a Child Advocacy Center.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect 46;47–59 [Researchers looked at the forensic interviews of 62 sexually exploited — aka trafficked — runaway adolescents (7 boys and 55 girls), age 12–17 years old, who were referred to a Child Advocacy Center for assessment. Findings: 28.6% of boys and 30.8% of girls ran away from home 1-2 times in the past year (self-reported); 0% of boys and 36.5% of girls ran away from home 3-10 times in the past year; 57.1% of boys and 21.2% of girls ran away from home more than 10 times in the past year]

SNAPSHOT — HOMELESS TEENS IN ABQ

In 2011, a homeless group in Albuquerque, N.M, conducted a survey of 103 homeless youth, age 21 and under and found the following:

  • 46% female

  • 54% male

  • 17.79 — Average age

  • 68% were not currently in school

  • 81% dropped out between 9-10th grades

  • Homelessness was caused by violence at home (34%) or being kicked out (33%)

  • 68% did not have a drug or alcohol addiction

  • Top answers when asked, “What are your three most pressing needs right now:”

    • Money/job

    • Education

    • Housing

    • Food

  • Top answers when asked, “What would you be doing with your life now if you could:”

    • 45% said education

    • 41% said getting a job

  • Top answer when asked, “What would make your life better or more enjoyable:” Family

Study was unpublished

TEENS WHO EXCHANGE SEX - aka Survival Sex

When a person under age 18 exchanges sex for any reason, even of their own accord, this makes them a trafficking victim.

 

But just how common is this?

It turns out, about 4% of middle- and high-school students — ages 10-18 — say they had given “someone sex in exchange for drugs or money.” This is according to a survey of more than 12,000 such students between 1994 and 1996 as part of a national study. 1,2,3

 

If any of these teens were arrested for selling sex, the trafficking law should keep them from being charged. But the law itself was mostly created to protect homeless teens who engage in “survival sex,” which is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse to secure basic human needs such as food, clothing or shelter.

Anywhere from 6 to 28% of homeless teens engage in “survival sex,” according to researchers. 4,5,6,7

 

When homeless teens do engage in survival sex, one study found they are most likely to exchange sex for economic reasons — 84% 5 — including the following: 

  • 56% money 8

  • 48% place to stay 8

  • 39% food 8

  • 37% drugs 8

  • 17% clothes 8

  • 13% protection 8

  • 16% other reasons, such as a search for self-worth or self-esteem, a desire for luxuries, encouragement by a peer, and a sense of empowerment 5

  1. Franchino-Olsen, H., et al. “Adolescent Experiences of Violence Victimizations Among Minors Who Exchange Sex/Experience Minor Sex Trafficking.” 2021. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [According to results of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health]

  2. Ulloa, E. “Prevalence and Correlates of Sex Exchange Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents and Young Adults.” 2016. Journal of Child Sex Abuse. 25(5): 524–537

  3. Edwards, J., Iritani, B., & Hallfors, D. “Prevalence and correlates of exchanging sex for drugs or money among adolescents in the United States.” 2006. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 82(5):354–358

  4. Bigelsen, J., & Vuotto S. “Homelessness, Survival Sex, and Human Trafficking: As Experienced by the Youth of Covenant House New York” 2013. New York: Covenant House and Fordham University [In 2011-2012, the researchers surveyed 174 randomly sampled young people who were using services at Covenant House New York shelter and found 12-14% of the youth experienced some form of trafficking victimization, consistent with the definition under federal law: 6-8% experienced force/fraud/coercion and 6% experienced survival sex as minors]

  5. Murphy, L. T. “Labor and sex trafficking among homeless youth: A ten-city study full report.” 2016. Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project. [In 2015-2016 researchers conducted interviews with 641 clients seeking services from Covenant Houses located in 10 major cities in the U.S. and Canada, and found 14% fit the definition of sex trafficking victims; 6% engaged in survival sex; 8.2% experienced force/fraud/coercion]

  6. Kort-Butler, L., & Tyler, K. “A cluster analysis of service utilization and incarceration among homeless youth.” 2012. Social Science Research. 41;612–623 [Interviewed 249 homeless teens in 2008-2009 and found an average of 19.75% engaged in survival sex]

  7. Walls, N., & Bell, S. “Correlates of Engaging in Survival Sex among Homeless Youth and Young Adults.”  2011. Journal of Sex Research. 48(5), 423–436 [Of a sample of 1,625 homeless youth from 28 different U.S. states, 9.4% reported they had engaged in survival sex]

  8. Middleton, J., et al. “Youth Experiences Survey (YES): Exploring the Scope and Complexity of Sex Trafficking in a Sample of Youth Experiencing Homelessness.” Journal of Social Service Research, 44:2, 141-157 [132 homeless youth teens in Louisville, KY, and Southern Indiana who reported exchanging sex completed a self-administered survey called the Youth Experiences Survey. The respondents reported exchanging sex for money 55.6%; place to stay 48.1%; food 38.9%; drugs 37%; clothes 16.9% and protection 13%. Note: The article reported 41.2% of the homeless youth were victims of sex trafficking, however, we are not citing this finding because it has been not reproduced in other literature and because of ambiguous language used in the study questions. Specifically, the YES questionnaire identified respondents as sex trafficking victims if they answered “yes” to a series of questions, including ones asking if a person “encourages/pressures/forces” them to exchange sex. The word “encourage” has dual definitions which makes it problematic.]

  9. Les Whitbeck et al. “Street Outreach Program: Data Collection Project Executive Summary.” 2014. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska-Lincoln. [In 2013, 656 homeless young people — between the ages of 14-21— in 10 cities across the U.S. were interviewed for the project. They found that 24.1% of participants “agreed to be sexual” with someone in exchange for money, and 27.5 percent had “agreed to be sexual” with someone in exchange for a place to spend the night]

Other articles that mention underage survival sex:

  1. Tyler, K., & Johnson, K. “Trading Sex: Voluntary or Coerced? The Experiences of Homeless Youth.” 2006. Journal of Sex Research 43:3; 208–216. [Interviewed 40 homeless youth in 4 midwestern states and found 17.5% had engaged in survival sex. We didn’t include this percentage in our average because number of respondents was so small]

  2. Coates, J., & McKenzie-Mohr, S. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Trauma in the Lives of Homeless Youth Prior to and During Homelessness.” 2010. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. XXXVII; 4 [Interviewed 102 homeless teens in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island in Canada and found, average age of 16% had been in the “sex trade.” We did not include this data in our average because the term “sex trade” was ambiguous.]