Connections Between Trafficking and Homeless Youth

May 24, 2016
A young girl sitting on cardboard in a dirty room.

By Katherine Chon, Director, Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP)

In a recent Street Outreach Study funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), homeless youth were asked if they had ever traded sex with anyone for something they needed. About 36% had traded sex for money, a place to spend the night, food, protection, or drugs. Most of the youth who reported trading sex for money did so only after they became homeless.

Participants were asked whether they had ever traded sex with anyone for something they needed while on the streets.  Approximately one-quarter of the participants had traded sex with at least one person for money (24.1%), a place to spend the night (27.5%), food (18.3%), protection (12.0%), or drugs (11.2%). Similar proportions of female and male participants reported trading sex for shelter (27.9% and 27.1%, respectively), food (17.8% and 18.6%), drugs (11.7% and 10.8%), and money (24.9% and 23.2%). However, significantly more female than male participants had exchanged sex for protection (17.8% and 6.7% respectively, p=.000). Additionally, 10.4 percent of the participants reported that they had been asked by a romantic partner to have sex with someone else in exchange for money (not shown in figure).

A FYSB grantee explained on a podcast Visit disclaimer page that her youth program used to work like this:

"At seven o’clock in the evening, they would be asked to leave the building and go back into the cold, dark night. You could see warm cars waiting, and inside these cars, at times, were people waiting to prey on the vulnerable youth leaving our building.”

The relationship between homelessness and trafficking is clear. The Administration for Children and Families has many different programs trying to address these issues.

The FYSB Street Outreach Program provides prevention services to runaway, homeless, and street youth who have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to sexual abuse, prostitution, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. Applications for the FY 2016 Funding Opportunity Announcement for the Street Outreach Program, including services for youth at risk for trafficking are due on July 5, 2016.

National Runaway Safeline Visit disclaimer page (a FYSB grantee) has expanded their family reunification program, Home Free. They have partnered with Greyhound Bus Lines to provide free bus tickets to reunify over 15,000 families. Home Free Visit disclaimer page is now available to youth victims of human trafficking through age 21. The program recognizes trafficking risk factors and helps coordinate services in the youth’s final destination.

FYSB partners with the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) on the Domestic Victims of Human Trafficking grant program to increase coordinated services to domestic trafficking survivors and decrease vulnerability to trafficking among at-risk populations (including runaway and homeless youth, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence).

The HHS Office on Trafficking in Persons is partnering with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address trafficking and the need for housing and social services. Earlier this year, HHS and HUD hosted joint listening sessions Visit disclaimer page on the housing needs of adult victims of trafficking. Next, we will host similar discussions on the housing needs of trafficked children and youth (sign up for OTIP’s newsletter to receive registration details).

FYSB has also put out some new materials:

Learn more about the Office on Trafficking in Persons and Family and Youth Services Bureau

Program Office: