For Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we are exploring the hard truth on homeless youth and survival sex. Learn how you can help prevent sex trafficking.

Survival Sex and Human Trafficking - National Runaway Safeline

As part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, we are going to explore the hard truth around what homeless youth are sometimes forced to participate in so they can have a place to sleep for a night, or for protection.

Survival sex is defined as exchanging one’s body for basic subsistence needs, including clothing, food, and shelter. It is a form of currency on the street, and homeless and runaway youth fall prey to this for several reasons.

Past Abuse According to statistics featured on our website:

34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home.

43% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.

– (Molnar et al, 1998) 

Oftentimes, the youth has experienced abuse. The abused child’s background has trained them to see dysfunctional relationships as normal and this perpetuates the abuse. Survival sex becomes normal, and human traffickers have used this to turn youth into prostitutes, or put them into the sex slave trade.

Necessity Less than four percent of all adolescents exchange sex for money. However, 28% of youth living on the street and 10% of those in shelters engage in ‘survival sex’ in exchange for food, shelter or money, according to “Prevalence and Correlates of Exchanging Sex for Drugs and Money Among Adolescents in the United States. (PDF)”

Runaway and homeless youth are forced to participate in human trafficking practices such as survival sex or forced labor out of necessity. Without stable housing, resources, even hope, they resort to extreme ends in order to live from day to day.

Lack of Knowledge about Alternatives Runaway and homeless youth will continue to choose dangerous options in order to survive if they are not aware that there are services available to them. However, there are organizations around the country devoted to the service of those in need. The government has written help for runaway youth into law. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, enacted by Congress, with the expectation it will  be renewed, creates a system of transitional shelter and housing options for homeless youth.

Street outreach programs, both on the street and at drop-in centers, are designed to reach out to youth in need and direct them to vital services. Temporary housing options with counseling help youth to prepare for transitional long-term housing, which include education and job training resources. This system is meant to transition youth off the streets and into a sustainable living situation.

These services are available, but homeless youth need to know they exist in order to access them. Our work is focused on connecting youth to similar services in their area. We are also here to help anyone working with youth provide prevention resources for them. Providers can utilize our free “Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum” to support and inform youth about alternatives to running and inform them about trusted community members they can turn to for help.


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