Primary Sources: Why Are Homeless Youth Victimized?

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Photograph of a young woman standing against the wall in an alley.

The High-Risk Environment of Homeless Young Adults:  Consequences for Physical and Sexual Victimization,” Violence and Victims, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2010.

What it’s about: In 2004-2005, the authors interviewed 127 homeless young adults between the ages of 19 and 26 to determine what characteristics or behaviors might lead them to be either physically or sexually victimized.

Why read it: Despite research that shows that between one-third and one-half of homeless youth have been physically or sexually victimized, there is little understanding of the factors that contribute to that victimization. This study uses four common theories of victimization to begin to tease out an explanation.  

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors found that youth were most at risk of any type of victimization when they engaged in “survival strategies” like panhandling, since it made them more visible and accessible to potential offenders. Different risk factors are associated with sexual and physical victimization, however.

Risk factors for sexual victimization include:

  • Being female
  • Being gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • Having an unkempt physical appearance
  • Panhandling
  • Having friends who trade sex

Risk factors for physical victimization include:

  • Running away at an early age
  • Running away more often
  • Sleeping on the street
  • Panhandling
  • Having peers who are involved in deviant behaviors like stealing, robbing, fighting and selling drugs
  • Not having a family member in one’s network

To reduce the likelihood that homeless young adults will be sexually victimized, the authors believe that youth workers should work on building self-esteem and self-efficacy particularly among the higher risk populations of women, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. They also stress the importance of building job skills to try to cut down the amount of time homeless youth spend exposed to violence while panhandling in public places.

Additional reference: The Homelessness Resource Center produced a series of videos with Larkin Street Youth Services on tips and best practices for providers serving gay, lesbian and bisexual homeless youth.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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