For Trafficked Youth, Home is Where the Help Is


Study shows vulnerability of homeless youth to trafficking

We’ve covered human trafficking extensively here at the Good Men Project. “Vulnerability” is the one constant throughout every piece we’ve written. Among other issues, we’ve talked about how climate change can displace people and make them vulnerable and we’ve talked about the vulnerability of the disabled. While those within the anti-slavery sector know well the links between vulnerability and human trafficking, a new study on homeless youth in New York provides additional validation.

According to Ryan M. Henry, President and CEO of Covenant House, this study revealed the following:

“In interviews with almost 200 randomly selected homeless youth 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 we 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). Kids who had a history of childhood sexual abuse, who lacked a caring, supportive adult in their life, and who had no means to earn an income were particularly vulnerable to such exploitation. Since Covenant House offers shelter and care to more than 3,000 youth in New York City each year, it is possible that we work with as many as 700 youth annually who have experienced trafficking or survival sex.”

Despite repeated awareness efforts, many people I speak with still think first of other countries when they think of human trafficking. Images in film and media often show the crime with the backdrop of exotic locations such as Thailand or here in India. And while we focus much of our money and attention on the somewhat misguided idea that tougher laws will deter criminals, boys and girls and men and women continue to be exploited. Work to rehabilitate the survivors is crucial, but not if the root causes of the crime are not addressed simultaneously. Henry nailed it when he said:

“The truth is we will never arrest our way out of this. 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.”

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