By Mitzi Perdue
Want an extraordinary statistic? One that is deeply disturbing and that may be even worse than it seems?
Forty percent of runaway and homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. That makes them prime targets for either survival sex or for being victims of sex-trafficking.
Meredith Dank, a Consultant at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, suspects that the 40% figure is an understatement. As part of her research, she’s interviewed 289 youth who identify as LGBTQ, and as a result of her experience in the field, she believes that the 40% figure is outdated. She hopes that new research will be undertaken to update it.
The 40% statistic may be understated, but Dank is pleased that the subject of LGBTQ youth vulnerability is becoming more a part of the conversation. “In the past, when people spoke about building awareness, when you brought up gender non-conforming youth, people didn’t want to discuss it further.”
However, the topic needs and deserves our attention. LGBTQ young people are particularly at risk.
LGBTQ Young People at Risk
They’re at risk because they may be without a support system. Too often they’ve come from families with a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect. Or their families kicked them out because of their gender identity.
According to Dank, youngster who has been kicked out will have a tenfold increase in vulnerability. They may have “couch surfed” to find a place with friends to stay, or maybe they’re hungry.
The problem is, they have few options. And so they move to survival sex.
As one Spanish and black 19 year old female said, survival sex, “.. .is not as bad as sleeping under the bridge, it’s not as bad as going without food, it’s not as bad as walking around slanging [selling cocaine or other narcotics].”
Dank wishes both society and the criminal justice system would rethink how we respond to the LGBTQ young person who is engaged in survival sex. They may not have experienced force, fraud or coercion but they nevertheless need assistance.
Here are some recommendations for providing assistance for non-gender-conforming young people.
- When providing services, hire people who reflect the populations you’re serving,
- For trans youth, make sure they’re connected to health providers who know how to be with trans kids.
- Have available social workers with training in how to work with young people who are struggling with their identity or who are transitioning,
Dank believes that with better preventive services, fewer young LGBTQ people would feel the need to engage in survival sex, and fewer would be vulnerable to being trafficked.
If you were to talk with Dank, you’d quickly get a sense that she cares deeply about the non-gender-conforming young people she works with. In fact more than that, she is in awe of them. “They are the most resilient people you’ve ever met in your whole life. They’ve faced things that you can’t imagine, and yet they’re still out there, making it!”
If want to read the research, go to: