In a 2012 survey of 354 runaway and homeless youth agencies (PDF, 1.8 MB), approximately 40 percent of programs reported that their clients identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 42 percent of those clients had a history of sexual exploitation. Many LGBT young people run away because their families disapprove of their sexual identity, and such familial conflict is one of the common risk factors for sex trafficking, according to a different report, “Seeking Shelter: The Experiences and Unmet Needs of LGBT Homeless Youth” (PDF, 1.1MB), from the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan educational institute in Washington, DC.
According to “Seeking Shelter” co-author Katie Miller, young men who have sex with men are more likely to have been forced into prostitution than other youth, including their female peers.
Boys often get involved with trafficking if they perceive that a peer’s life has improved from participating in commercial sexual exploitation, says Gordon Vance, program director at the National Runaway Safeline, the Chicago organization that runs the Family and Youth Services Bureau's national communication system for runaway and homeless youth. This is especially true for transgender boys, who tend to feel even more rejected by society than their peers.
While trafficked girls are often controlled in groups by a pimp, boys tend to be “lone wolves,” Vance said. “Boys can sit on the steps of a building and just look at people and nod their head, then walk around the corner and get in the car and that’s it,” Vance said. “They’re much more invisible.”
Continuum of care
The basic needs of homeless youth are similar regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, says Andrew Cray, co-author of “Seeking Shelter.” All youth experiencing homelessness require a safe place to stay where they aren’t afraid of being prosecuted for solicitation or other crimes. They also need access to job training and economic opportunities.
“On top of these things, though, LGBT youth need providers to offer respect for their identities, and to provide space and programming where it is safe for them to be open about who they are,” Cray says.
A few specific ways to help gay, bisexual and transgender boys who may be susceptible to trafficking include:
- Provide counseling that addresses family rejection, a common factor leading to homelessness. When possible, educate families about the needs of their gay, bisexual and transgender children to help the families gain understanding and acceptance.
- Promote positive role models, especially those who have handled the coming out process.
- Provide access to sexual health services, including screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Young men who have sex with men are at increased risk for HIV transmission, Cray says.
- Be patient. This is a difficult group of young people to help, says Vance. Young people have a hard time simply “quitting” a life of sexual exploitation because it provides money and is often the only stability in their lives. “It’s tough for them to come in and just quit,” Vance says. “Change looks much like drug treatment; people fail the first time. They have to come back and come back.”
The "Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States" includes plans for federal agencies to identify the prevalence of trafficking among boys, men and LGBT youth and begin to fill the gaps in resources for who have been trafficked.