Not Home But Alone
Imagine believing that you would be safer alone, on the streets, than in your own home. Anyone can potentially become a victim to sex trafficking, and victims of sex trafficking come from all races, ages, and socio-economic classes. But, children and teens who have been abused, neglected, or emotionally damaged are far more likely to be coerced or seduced into the sex industry. Homeless or runaway youth or youth in foster care are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.[i] In fact, a high percentage of those in the sex industry are runaways, homeless, or in the foster care system. In the early 2000s, half (!) of those selling sex in Chicago were runaways; the number rose to three-quarters in Boston. Up to one-third of homeless young adults in Phoenix Arizona had experiences of sexual exploitation.[ii] CAS Research and Education reports that “half of all sexually trafficked minors in the state [of CA] come from the foster care system.”[iii]
Homeless and runaways and youth in foster care are particularly vulnerable because they are alone, often in new and unfamiliar surroundings.[iv] Often they don’t have training for jobs, so they have no legal way of employment.
Why would a child or teen want to leave home? A few naively do not realize the dangers of street life. But most runaways are trying to protect themselves, believing that “living on the streets as either less dangerous or no more dangerous than staying at home.”[v] Many have not experienced the love, care, and attention that all human beings should from those closest to them.
Either way, the consequences are horrific. Women and men are physically, emotionally, and sexually coerced or forced to have sex. What may begin innocuously can quickly become dangerous. Many are forced to have sex with five, ten, or even more men each day. Some victims of sex trafficking are kept in dog crates or box springs.[vi] Others are infected with STDs.[vii]
Even those without such dramatic stories life can be imprisoned in a “mental cage,” confined not by physical bars or fists, but by fear and shame. [viii] That fear might be of their trafficker or pimp or of harm to family or friends. Runaways and the homeless are especially vulnerable, for they have few resources and sometimes think there is no other way for them to survive except by earning money through sex.
These are dark stories and difficult topics. Coercing vulnerable children and teens, often who have no place to belong, is a heinous violation of human dignity and perpetration of great evil. But the movement is growing to stop these evils. Many organizations are working with survivors, laws are beginning to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, and law enforcement is gaining greater understanding of how to approach the issue.
We at Project Cultivate are working to be a part of this growing movement to create a culture of empowerment. In addition to educating people about the sex industry and partnering with like-minded organizations, we are creating professional, strengths-based development programs which educate survivors of the sex industry for real and empowering professional careers. Combined with emotional, physical, and spiritual healing, this helps empower survivors for self-sufficiency. No man or woman should ever have to stay in the sex industry simply because she (or he) has no other financial options. We hope that in our work women and men will find or create their own place to belong, having been empowered in every way to be fully integrated into their communities, growing and flourishing in all that God has made them to be.
By: Elissa Buckles, Editor
[i] “The Victims,” National Human Trafficking Resource Center (http://traffickingresourcecenter.org/what-human-trafficking/human-trafficking/victims). Accessed February 24, 2016.
[ii] Lily Lieberman, “Study: Sex traffickers target homeless, runaway teens in Arizona,” Cronkite News, published in The Arizona Central, February 12, 2016, http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2016/02/12/study-sex-traffickers-target-homeless-runaway-teens-arizona/80285276/ (last accessed March 8, 2016). Specific study by the Arizona State University Office for Sex Trafficking Intervention and Research and the McCain Institute.
[iii] “Sex Trafficking Sting Shows Foster Children are Especially Vulnerable,” Children’s Rights, July 31, 2013, http://www.childrensrights.org/sex-trafficking-sting-shows-foster-children-are-especially-vulnerable/ (last accessed March 8, 2016).
[iv] “The Victims.”
[v] Heather J. Clawson, Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, “Other Populations at Risk for Trafficking,” Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: a Review of the Literature, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services, July 30, 2009, https://aspe.hhs.gov/basic-report/human-trafficking-and-within-united-states-review-literature#Trafficking (last accessed March 8, 2016). Citing studies by Hyde, 2005; Martinez, 2006.
[vi] Richard Ruelas, “What ‘Sex Trafficking’ Really Means,” The Republic (by Arizona Central), http://www.azcentral.com/story/life/az-narratives/2015/01/17/what-sex-trafficking-really-means/21939797/ (last accessed March 8, 2016).
[vii] Article from Today (FL)