“Homeless youth are in survival mode, everything sounds good to them if it can get them a meal or a place to lay their head.”
-Aja Ellington, NN4Y National Youth Advisory Committee Member
In a country with the resources of the United States, no young person should ever experience homelessness or trafficking.
An estimated 4.2 million young people (ages 13-25) experience homelessness annually, including 700,000 unaccompanied youth ages 13 to 17, according to research from Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago. Many of those young people will become victims of sex or labor trafficking. Research from numerous studies have found trafficking rates among youth and young adults experiencing homelessness ranging from 19% to 40%. Although the varying populations and methods of these studies do not allow for a definitive number, this means, using the lower end estimates, that about 800,000 of the youth and young adults who experience homelessness in a year may also be victims of sex or labor trafficking in cities, suburbs, rural communities, and American Indian Reservations across the country.
Some youth experiencing homelessness are even more vulnerable to trafficking than these incredibly high numbers suggest, and interviews with these youth illustrate some common themes and pathways:
- Basic needs, such as the lack of a safe place to sleep at night, often play a role in their trafficking experiences.
- Homelessness and trafficking begin early, often well before age 18.
- LGBTQ youth and youth who have been in foster care experience trafficking at higher rates than other youth experiencing homelessness.
- Girls and young women are more likely to experience trafficking, but boys and young men also experience high levels of trafficking.
- Youth experiencing homelessness who have also been victims of sex trafficking are more likely to have mental health and substance use issues, to have experienced physical and emotional abuse by parents or guardians, and to have a history of sexual abuse.
Using this research, policymakers, service providers, and advocates can and must bring about change to meet the basic needs of young people to prevent and address homelessness and trafficking.