Homeless Youth and Sexual Exploitation: Research Findings and Practice Implications


National Alliance to End Homelessness

Solutions Brief | October 30, 2009

Files: PDF | 283 KB | 14 pages

This issue brief reviews research regarding the involvement of unaccompanied, homeless youth in various types of sexual exploitation including survival sex and recruitment into the commercial sex industry and will recommend a series of programmatic responses to meet their needs. While research indicates that the majority of homeless youth avoid victimization in the commercial sex industry, its harmful impact on longā€term health and wellness scars tens of thousands of youth annually. Current rates of victimization among homeless youth are unacceptable, and its continued existence indicates an urgent need for an increased national investment in outreach, supportive services, and housing.

Key research findings highlighted in this brief include:

  • Histories of abuse may heighten vulnerability to sexual exploitation in street environments.
  • Once homeless, victimization remains a constant risk for homeless youth.
  • Sexually exploited homeless youth rarely report their situation or seek help.
  • Research finds significant involvement of homeless youth in commercial and survival sex.
  • Research shows a disproportionate experience of homelessness and sexual exploitation among LGBTQ youth.

The brief also makes several recommendations for ending the sexual exploitation of youth, including the following interventions:

  • Street- and community-based outreach
  • Early intervention and mental health services to improve family functioning.
  • Intensive case management services
  • Respite shelter tied to family reunification services
  • Housing options