Human Trafficking and Runaway and Homeless Youth

According to research conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, every year an estimated 4.2 million young people between ages 13-25 experience homelessness, including 700,000 unaccompanied youth ages 13-17 (“Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America”). Runaway and homeless youth (RHY) are at higher risks of becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking due to their homelessness situation. These youth are perceived as easy targets by traffickers because of their lack of housing, connections, resources, and safety nets. Certainly, human trafficking intersects with RHY in many ways, for example:

  • Youth served by RHY programs have experienced abuse, neglect, or violence in their homes which has forced them to run away. These traumatic situations make them more vulnerable to become victims of sex and labor trafficking.
  • Some youth experiencing homelessness cannot sign a lease, continue their education, access medical and mental health services, find a job, or apply for federal assistance. This situation increases their vulnerability to human trafficking, including trading sex for something of value (i.e., shelter, food, transportation).
  • Traffickers capitalize on RHY’s vulnerabilities and target these youth as victims and accessories to criminal activities.
  • Labor traffickers (individuals and businesses) recruit homeless youth because they know that these youth are looking for job opportunities, and these opportunities are limited while living on the streets.

It is important that RHY programs enhance their capacity in key areas; such as prevention, identification, interventions, effective referrals, and collaboration, by using victim-centered, trauma-informed, and strengths-based approaches and positive youth development strategies.

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