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LGBTQIA+ and Human Trafficking

Hey Changemaker,

Did you know there’s an intersection between human trafficking and the LGBTQIA+ community?

One of the factors that makes this particular community so vulnerable to trafficking is the high rate of homelessness amongst its members. The numbers vary, but 40-60 % of homeless youth in the United States are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They typically end up on the streets because they've run away from home, decided to leave an environment that felt unsafe, or have been kicked out by their parent or guardian.

Once on the streets, they have to find a way to survive. What sometimes happens is what we call ‘survival sex’, which is extremely common, but a lesser discussed form of exploitation amongst this community. Survival sex refers to any situation where individuals have sex as a means to obtain necessities, such as housing, food, or transportation. Currently, survival sex does not conform to the criteria of commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking, which is a huge barrier in extracting those involved in this type of exploitation. A lot of blame is placed on the victim for their circumstances, and they tend to be overlooked as a potential victim of trafficking.

Imagine the following scenario…

Sam is 17 years old and identifies as non-binary. They came out to their parents and were kicked out of the house. Their parents never wanted to see them again. Now they are homeless. They decided to go to Hillcrest, which is also known as the ‘gayborhood’. There they can find people that look like them. They can find acceptance. People there tell them: Hey, if you have sex with me, you can sleep on my couch for the next two weeks. They don’t want to be homeless and would rather have a place to stay. So, they engage in survival sex.

Survival sex within the LGBTQIA+ community highlights the gray area in which these events often occur. It is unclear what and when consent has been given, especially when those exchanging basic necessities for sex are often people sharing housing and food with each other, and who have become ‘family’, which they've likely been longing for. When is it trafficking? When is it exploitation?

The interesting thing about this scenario is that at the moment this happens, it is considered sex trafficking because Sam is still a minor. However, fast-forward three weeks, Sam has turned 18 and is legislatively no longer considered to be a victim of human trafficking, but rather a prostituted person of their own free will.

Homeless LGBTQIA+ youth are 7x more likely to be trafficked than their peers, and 33% of the entire community will experience homelessness in their lifetime. There are reports that 91% of homeless LGBTQIA+ youth have been approached by someone offering them “a way to earn income that was too good to be true.” One of the scariest facts is that a third of youth living on the streets is likely to be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours.

Lack of housing also acts as a major barrier to recovery for trafficking survivors. This is especially difficult for transgender people, of which 1 in 3 get turned away from shelters. Substance abuse and criminal records also play a role in the difficulty of obtaining housing, even though substance abuse is often controlled by the trafficker.

As you can see, this high rate of homelessness and its accompanying factors make the LGBTQIA+ community quite vulnerable to trafficking. Spreading awareness of these housing barriers is the first step toward empowering people who find themselves in a similar situation. By sharing this blog, you’ll be part of a solution!

Join us in fighting for a world where everyone is free.


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