The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research at the University of Pennsylvania has released a landmark study on the link between homeless youth and human trafficking in the United States.
Commissioned by Covenant House, the research focused on Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, making it the largest study on trafficking and homeless youth to date. Researchers also looked at youth backgrounds, including if they had a history of child abuse or out-of-home placement.
Researchers found that of those youth who were victims of sex trafficking, 49 percent had a history of sexual abuse as children. On top of that, 41 percent of those who were trafficked for sexual exploitation had at least one out-of-home placement.
Penn Today notes the report’s other major findings:
20 percent of those interviewed were victims of human trafficking. This includes 17 percent who were sex trafficked and 6 percent who trafficked for other labor.
14 percent engaged in “survival sex,” to meet basic needs such as food or housing.
Among sex trafficking survivors, 41 percent were approached on their first night of homelessness.
95 percent of sex trafficking victims reported a history of child abuse or neglect.
Debra Schilling Wolfe, executive director of the Field Center, said the study’s findings are “both alarming and enlightening” but that she hopes it can inform better policies and practices to “actually prevent young people from being victimized and stem the pipeline to predators.”
Covenant House President Kevin Ryan also pointed to the connection between youth homelessness and online sex trafficking, as many victims “singled out Backpage as the platform that sold them.” An incredible 44 percent of sex trafficking victims reported being advertised online, with half of the interviewees specifically mentioning Backpage.
Researchers also found that 67% of victims of sex trafficking did not graduate from high school, and that a “disproportionate number of youth who were sex trafficked identified as LGBTQ.”
“This research tells us that sex trafficking is not the first victimization for most of these young people,” said Wolfe. “Not only were they exploited as victims of child abuse and neglect, but they learned early on that adults in their lives would not protect them.”