Q&A: Educating Young Men as a Way to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation

As we recognize National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month this January, it’s important to acknowledge the role of demand. As long as individuals are willing pay for sex, pimps and traffickers will continue targeting and profiting from vulnerable youth.

To reduce the profitability of sexual exploitation, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation in 2010 developed a pilot curriculum for high school boys called “Empowering Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation.” Originally intended for classroom use, the curriculum has since been adopted by youth-serving organizations across the country to educate teen boys on commercial sexual exploitation and how they can take a stand.

NCFY spoke with the alliance’s Caleb Probst about the curriculum, the organization’s research on the demand for prostitution (PDF, 642KB), and how teaching young men about the exploitative nature of the sex industry can enlighten them in other ways, as well.

NCFY: The alliance interviewed 113 men in Chicago who, on average, said they first bought sex at age 21. How did that finding impact the way you interact with teen boys?

Probst: The goal of the curriculum is preventative in nature. It’s not an intervention. It really starts by breaking down some of the social constructs of gender, the kind of hyper-masculinity that gets portrayed in the media and the notion that women are objects to be consumed or exploited in one way or the other. So really, it’s a safe space to have important dialogue and a space where [youth] feel like they’ll be listened to and won’t be judged or corrected for wondering about various behaviors.

NCFY: Why focus on reducing the demand for sexual exploitation?

Probst: Our founder, Rachel Durchslag, started the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation with the intention of focusing almost exclusively on the demand side because society’s response for so long has been the other side. Her approach was let’s really do something that’s going to change society’s response as a whole.

We have a three-pronged approach: one is to change policy, second is to provide legal representation to survivors of exploitation and sexual assault, and then the third is this education and prevention piece to really get out and inform our community, starting with young men. We also speak to other groups about this issue to look at what is it that makes some people believe that they can purchase another person for their own satisfaction.

NCFY:  You set out to educate young men about commercial sexual exploitation. Can that information also impact how they approach their own relationships?

Probst: Absolutely. Part of what we found in the research was that the vast majority [of men purchasing sex] had partners and talked about some pretty profound problems within their relationships. Their way of dealing with this was to go out and buy sex as an escape.

So when these young men see that, they say, “Oh, I guess there are ways I can talk to my partner, and that would be a more responsible way of handling it.”

It also gets into this idea that if a man is unhappy in a relationship, he has a responsibility to communicate his feelings and what he is looking for in the relationship. It’s not the woman’s job to read his mind.

Read the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation’s report “Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution” (PDF, 642KB).

Research Roundup: What Makes Homeless Youth More Likely to Get STIs? More Likely to Get Tested?

Research has shown that many homeless youth trade sex for food or shelter, and many have experienced sexual abuse and abuse substances – all risk factors for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

So researchers interested in promoting the health and well-being of homeless youth are asking what makes homeless young people more or less likely to get infected? And what makes them more or less likely to get tested for HIV and STIs?

Attitudes About Sex

Researchers Kimberly Tyler and Lisa Melander, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Kansas State University, examined homeless youth's perceptions of their peers’ sexual behaviors and their views on safe sex practices. The two researchers combined qualitative and quantitative methods, interviewing 19 young people ages 13 to 24, and surveying 249 youth in shelters and on the streets from January 2008 to March 2009 in three Midwestern cities.

The researchers found that despite high rates of risky sexual behavior and substance use among the young people studied, most youth reported avoiding sexual contact with drug users and those they perceived to have a history of risky sexual behaviors. But those precautions did not necessarily translate to consistent condom use. Homeless youth were more likely to use condoms with partners who were not forthcoming about their sexual histories. Still, most of the young people used condoms inconsistently and reported no safe-sex norms in their peer groups.

“Peer-led initiatives through street outreach may be an effective way to alter social norms as pro-social peers have been found to reduce HIV risk behaviors,” Tyler and Melander say.

Influence of Friends and Acquaintances

Annie M. Valente and Colette L. Auerswald from Family Medicine Residency of Idaho and the University of California, Berkeley, were interested in how the differences in homeless girls’ and boys’ social networks – such as their friends’ gender and behaviors – might make them more or less likely to practice safe sex and avoid STIs. 

Their study of 258 homeless 15- to 24-year-olds from San Francisco street venues and transitional programs found that homeless young women used condoms less often and had higher rates of STIs than did young men. Young women also had more friends of the opposite sex and more unstably-housed contacts. In the study, youth with more friends of their own gender and more contact with people who live in a stable home were less likely to have an STI.

Valente and Auerswald write that “efforts to reconnect homeless young men and women with mainstream society and to support same-gender friendships may be effective tools in our efforts to improve their health by increasing their social capital.”

Getting Tested

Allison Ober and others from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank with headquarters in Santa Monica, CA, wanted to find out what makes homeless youth more or less likely to get tested for HIV and other STIs. Among a sample of 305 sexually active homeless 13- to 24-year-olds in Los Angeles, the researchers found that the youth most likely to have been tested in the past three months fell into several categories:

  • Youth who identified as gay
  • Latino young people
  • Injection drug users
  • Patrons of drop-in centers

Youth with more symptoms of depression than other youth were marginally more likely to have been tested.

The authors found that visiting a drop-in center often facilitated young people’s access to STI testing, especially for homeless youth using injection drugs. In other words, when testing is readily available to young people, they are very likely to take advantage of the service.

Read the Articles

Individual and Social Network Sexual Behavior Norms of Homeless Youth at High Risk for HIV Infection” (abstract). Children & Youth Services Review Vol. 34 No. 12, December 2012.

Gender Differences in Sexual Risk and Sexually Transmitted Infections Correlate With Gender Differences in Social Networks Among San Francisco Homeless Youth” (abstract). Journal of Adolescent Health Vol. 53 No. 4, October 2013.

 “If You Provide the Test, They Will Take it: Factors Associated With HIV/STI Testing In a Representative Sample of Homeless Youth in Los Angeles.” AIDS Education and Prevention Vol. 24 No. 4, August 2012.

A Website That Helps You Help Young People Navigate Federal Student Aid

Applying to college and seeking federal student aid can be daunting for young people. The process is especially stressful for unaccompanied homeless youth or young people who are the first in their families to go to college.

And if you, the youth and family services professional, haven't applied to college in eons yourself, you might need a little help walking youth, and in some cases their families, through the process.

You'll find the information you need in the Department of Education's Financial Aid Toolkit, an online resource for school counselors and others who work with prospective college students. The site will fill you in on the basics about federal student aid and the FAFSA (the form students use to apply for aid). You'll also find tips on planning workshops and information sessions for young people and families, and you can locate training opportunities for yourself.

There's also information about the TRIO and Gear UP programs and how they can be useful to disadvantaged youth who want to go to college. The toolkit's resource library includes loads of downloadable handouts and other materials to help young people learn about preparing and applying for college, getting financial aid and paying back loans.

#NCFYchat: “Youth Homelessness and Sex Trafficking: Making the Connection,” January 30 at 2 p.m. EST

Please join us for a Twitter chat about youth homelessness and sex trafficking.

Co-hosted by Covenant House International, the chat will spur a dialogue on ways that runaway and homeless youth providers can better identify sexually exploited young people and meet their needs to prevent further exploitation.

Combatting sex trafficking is a priority of the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs. Unaccompanied youth living away from home often face the difficult choice to trade sex for shelter or resources, a decision that puts them at greater risk for sex trafficking. Others are approached directly by pimps and traffickers on the street or even at shelters.

How can runaway and homeless youth providers identify exploited youth, offer safe housing and provide resources to help them heal?

During the Twitter chat, Covenant House International will share their research on homelessness, survival sex and human trafficking (PDF, 8,138KB), as experienced by youth in the organization’s New York shelter. We’ll also encourage participants to share their thoughts on what it takes to tackle this urgent problem.

When: January 30, 2014, at 2 p.m. EST
Who (Co-Hosts): The Family and Youth Services Bureau’s National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (@NCFY) and Covenant House International (@CovenantHouse)
Hashtag: #NCFYchat
Let us know you're joining: RSVP on Facebook

Help LGBT Married Couples Understand Their Federal Rights

A fact sheet series from the American Civil Liberties Union, created in conjunction with several other organizations, can help social services professionals who work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families and youth understand the ways federal agencies accord legal respect to married same-sex couples.

"After DOMA: What it Means For You: LGBT Organizations Fact Sheet Series" covers an array of topics, including:

  • Finances: Bankruptcy, federal employee benefits, taxes and more
  • Healthcare: Family medical leave, Medicaid and Medicare
  • Education: Information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
  • Social Services: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Get the fact sheets.

Primary Sources: What Might Make Youth More Likely to Leave 'The Life' of Commercial Sexual Exploitation?

The Illusions and Juxtapositions of Commercial Sexual Exploitation Among Youth: Identifying Effective Street Outreach Strategies” (abstract), Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Vol. 22, No. 3 (2013).

What it’s about: Researchers from Minnesota and British Columbia wanted to know how best to meet the needs of sexually exploited young people, and what types of outreach and services the youth found most helpful. To find out, the researchers interviewed 13 sexually exploited young women ranging in age from 14 to 22 years old. Six of the young women identified as African-American, two as Caucasian, one as Native American and four as multiracial. Of the 13 participants, four identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and one participant identified as transgender.

Why read it: Research has found that the longer someone has been sexually exploited, the harder it is to escape. Young people who have been sexually abused or exploited are also at higher risk than their peers for depression and suicidal thoughts, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, drug use and other health problems. They are less likely than other youth to finish school. Knowing how to best to approach trafficked youth may enable street outreach workers and other youth and family services professionals to help young people escape the cycle of exploitation.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: While street-based prostitution was common among the young women interviewed, they were exploited in a number of locations, including hotels, massage parlors and private homes. All of the participants used the Internet to meet abusers, especially Craigslist, chat rooms, Myspace and Black Planet. The researchers suggest that street outreach workers use all these avenues to contact young people in need of assistance.

Several participants viewed their pimps as boyfriends, and they rationalized exploitation as lucrative work. Yet, the participants had also been coerced to use drugs and alcohol to cope with exploitation, had been seriously assaulted by pimps and others, and had been pressured into sexual acts with both women and men. The authors suggest that the illusions and rationalizations the young people had about their exploitation were the result of the sense that they had no other choices.

Young women in the study felt that street outreach workers should be non-judgmental and take their time to build up trust. They recommended using “soft words” to describe sexual exploitation, rather than clinical terms often used by police, physicians and social workers. They also suggested that street outreach workers carry condoms, lubricant, hygiene supplies, information about social service and health care providers, clothing (not just underwear and socks, which are commonly handed out by outreach workers), gift cards, bus tokens, mace and first aid kits.

Additional references: Learn how to recognize and support victims of sex trafficking by reading our brochure "Bought and Sold: Helping Young People Escape From Commercial Sexual Exploitation." The National Runaway Safeline offers a training about the commercial sexual exploitation of runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. Last year, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families released guidance to states and social service agencies on preventing domestic minor sex trafficking and assisting victims.

(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.)

Five Things to Know About Teen Parents and How to Help Them

Teen parents are dealing with a lot. In addition to early parenthood, many of these young people have faced family conflict, poverty-induced stress, abuse and neglect, unstable housing, sexual exploitation. These issues are interconnected, yet little research has examined all of them together, says Elizabeth Peck, public policy director at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

New Report: How States Are Using Pregnancy Prevention Grants to Reach Estimated 300,000 Young People

How are states implementing the adolescent pregnancy prevention efforts funded by the Family Youth Services Bureau’s Personal Responsibility Education Program? A new report breaks down their work so far.

“The Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP): Launching a Nationwide Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Effort” documents key decisions made by state grantees about the design of their programs to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates. State PREP programs are expected to be evidence-based, provide education on both abstinence and contraceptive use, and educate youth on “adulthood preparation” topics, such as healthy relationships and adolescent development.

In the report, authors Susan Zief, Rachel Shapiro and Debra Strong note that together, the 45 State PREP grantees aim to serve more than 300,000 young people at more than 1,300 sites across the nation.

Out of 306 teen pregnancy prevention providers supported by state PREP programs

  • 110 are targeting African American youth
  • 99 are targeting Hispanic youth
  • 75 are targeting youth in foster care
  • 67 are targeting youth in the juvenile justice system
  • 22 are targeting pregnant and parenting youth
  • 21 are targeting LGBTQ youth

The report is first in a series planned as part of an evaluation being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, in coordination with FYSB and the Administration for Children & Families' Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation.

For more facts about state PREP programs, read the report.

Primary Sources: A Creative Approach to Helping Survivors of Interpersonal Violence Heal

"Through the Eyes of a Survivor: A Pilot Study to Examine the Use of a Photovoice-based Support Group for Women Survivors of Family-Based Interpersonal Violence" (PDF, 94.4KB). Laura Beth Haymore, Mary Y. Morgan, Christine E. Murray, Robert W. Strack, Linda Trivette and Paige Hall Smith. Family Violence Prevention and Health Practice, Vol. 1, No. 12 (2012).

What it’s about: The photovoice method of therapy -- using photography and journaling to depict experiences and facilitate social support -- has been shown to help prevent domestic violence among women who might be at risk. Researchers wanted to test whether this creative approach to therapy could also benefit survivors of family violence, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Equipped with a digital camera, a journal and their past experiences, five women spent 10 weeks taking photos and writing accompanying narratives as part of the “Through the Eyes of a Survivor” program.

Why read it: Survivors of family and relationship violence may each need different ways to process their experiences and begin to heal. Photovoice may provide a low-cost, creative mode of expression that could easily be added to an existing support group for survivors.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers found that photovoice therapy allowed participants to express their stories of past victimization in ways they might not have been able to do in talk therapy alone. Photovoice also increased social support.

By taking photos and journaling, participants were able to highlight moments significant to their relationships. One participant used a picture of a door to explain that no one knows what happens behind closed doors. Another took a picture of a blank wall in her home to depict the violence that happened there.

After the 10-week program was over, participants said they would have liked more time to take more pictures. They were also very interested in the support aspect of the program and suggested in the future that they share their pictures before meetings so they could be better prepared to have a meaningful discussion.

Additional references: You can read the full text of the article and see photos from the study on the Futures Without Violence website. NCFY has also written about the use of the photovoice process in youth engagement and community advocacy.

(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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