Any child in the US could be at risk of being trafficked, but a new study released this winter by the Arizona State University School of Social Work, and funded by the McCain Institute for International Leadership, highlights youth who face multiple vulnerabilities putting them at high risk for trafficking.
Homeless Arizona young adults, ages 18-25, were interviewed for this study. Of the 199 homeless youth surveyed, one-third identified themselves as victims of sex trafficking. By gender, 1 out of every 3 female study participants, and 1 out of 4 male respondents self-reported that they had been sex trafficked.
“When asked if they had been pressured or forced into having sex for money, drugs, food, clothing, a place to stay or for protection, 66 young homeless adults – one in three – identified as being a sex trafficking victim.” 1
It is not just homelessness that puts these youth at risk, but a confluence of factors. The study found that drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues or a history of dating violence or physical, sexual or emotional abuse are all vulnerabilities that traffickers seek to exploit. Particularly concerning is the use of technology, and in particular the internet, to facilitate the exploitation of youth.
“Technology was found to have played a role in the sex trafficking victimization as respondents indicated that sex traffickers used smart phones, social media, websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist.org and apps like Tinder to reach sex buyers.” 1
Buyers’ increasingly easy access to trafficked youth via the internet highlights the need to address the demand for sex with minors. In 2015 Shared Hope published a field assessment analyzing demand in Arizona. The Demanding Justice Arizona Field Assessment explored criminal justice outcomes and dynamics, making recommendations for how the state can further combat demand to protect children from sex trafficking.
As a result of this research, Shared Hope advocates for strong anti-demand laws and enforcement to be implemented across the nation. We also join the call to action of this study to focus interventions for sex trafficked youth on runaway and homeless youth and on the role of the internet in facilitating the sex trafficking of youth across the socio-economic spectrum.
With continued research, strengthened laws and trained professionals we can reach our vision of a world intolerant of sex trafficking and a community committed to restoring survivors.
1All quotes come from the McCain Institute for International Leadership press release.