Research Studies on Survival Sex
- Bigelsen, J., & Vuotto, S. (2013). Homelessness, Survival Sex and Human Trafficking: As Experienced by the Youth of Covenant House New York. New York: Covenant House
Covenant House is New York City largest provider of comprehensive services to homeless youth age 16-21. In collaboration with the Applied Developmental Psychology Department at Fordham University to develop a sex trafficking screening tool to identify trafficking victims. Before interaction with Covenant House, 14.9% of youth experienced trafficking victimization; 23% had engaged in survival sex. Of trafficked youth, researchers found that approximately 1/3 were trafficking victims, because they traded sex for something of value, when they were less than 18 years of age. Approximately 1/3 were classified as victims because they traded sex due to force, fraud or coercion when they were less than 18 years of age. Around 3% were forced into labor servitude. Youth who experienced compelled sex trafficking also experienced violence, intimidation, and/or gang rape. Traffickers included family members, friends of family, or boyfriends who abused them. Shelter was the most frequent commodity traded for sexual activity; 48% said they did traded sex because they did not have a place to stay. Participants reported that traffickers loiter in areas where homeless youth are known to congregate and tell them shelters are full, offering them shelter. Risk factors for trafficking include homelessness, childhood sexual abuse, lack of supportive adults, lack of education, and marginalization from legitimized income. Findings indicate there is fluidity between sex trafficking and survival sex—regardless of type, all youth regretted trading sex. All transgender participants had engaged in the commercial sex trade. Lack of employment opportunities led to transgender youth to believe the commercial sex trade was their only option.
- Chettiar, J., Shannon, K., Wood, E., Zhang, R., & Kerr, T. (2010). Survival Sex Work Involvement Among Street-Involved Youth Who Use Drugs In A Canadian Setting. Journal Of Public Health, 32(3), 322-327.
Approximately 11% of street-involved youth in Vancouver had engaged in survival sex work in the past six months. Drug users who are involved in survival sex are at increase risk for drug and sexual related harms. Researchers collected data from the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS)—a prospective cohort of street-recruited youth age 14-26 using illicit drugs. Using multiple logistic regression, the authors compared youth who had engaged in the commercial sex trade to youth who had not engaged in the commercial sex trade. Factors associated with survival sex work included non-injection crack use, being female, aboriginal ethnicity, and methamphetamine use. . The co-use of crack cocaine and methamphetamine drove the association between methamphetamine use and survival sex work. Researchers suggest that prevention efforts should address the dual use of crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
- Curtis, R., Terry, K., Dank, M., Dombrowski, K., Khan, B., Muslim, A., Labriola, M. and Rempel, M., 2008. The Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of Children In New York City. New York: Center for Court Innovation.
Data comes from a National Institute of Justice study, funding research in NYC, a city believed to have a large CSEC population. The researchers use respondent driven sampling, and capture-recapture to provide an ethnographic description and population estimates of local CSEC populations. New York: There are an estimated 3,946 CSEC victims. The sample of 249 youth was 48% female/45% male/8% transgender. The average of market entry was 15.29 years. 48% were African-American or mixed race; 24% were white. 56% were born outside of NYC. 32% characterized their housing situation as ‘living in the street.’ 27% said they knew 20+ other CSEC youth; 37% said they knew between 10 and 20 CSEC youth. Approximately 45% of girls and boys reported that ‘friends’ gained them entry into CSEC. 68% of transgender youth entered the sex trade through a friend. Customers are predominantly male. 70% of CSEC victims found customers on the street, but also coupled this with Internet or cell phone use. Approximately 50% of interactions were in-call, and 50% were out-call. Only 8% used a market facilitator or ‘pimp.’ 95% of the sample reported they had traded sex for money, and many reported concerns about locating legal employment; 60% said they needed stable employment in order to leave the sex trade—51% cited education, and 41% cited stable housing. Less than 10% of the sample could go to a parent for help. 17% said they could rely on friends or family. 87% indicated they want to leave “the life.”
- Dank, M., Yahner, J., Madden, K., Bañuelos, I., Yu, L., Ritchie, A., Mora, M. and Conner, B., 2015. Surviving the Streets of New York. Urban Institute.
Part of a three-year study of LGBT youth, YMSM, and YWSW in NYC. Researchers led in-depth interviews with 283 youth engaged in survival sex. Youth were likely to have experienced social and familial discrimination and rejection, family dysfunction, family poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional and mental trauma. Youth experiences were not static, but changed over course of involvement with commercial sex trade. “Young people might be recruited by an exploiter but then eventually trade independently to meet their basic needs, or vice versa.” LGBT youth had large peer networks including other youth in the sex trade; many youth became introduced to the survival-sex economy through these networks. These youth had limited access to housing, livable-wage employment, food security, and gender-affirming healthcare. Many youth had frequent arrest for ‘quality of life’ and misdemeanor crimes escalating instability and need to engage in survival sex. Youth who had been arrested faced hostility or violence based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Abuse was multifaceted including families, exploiters, clients, strangers, peers, staff at service providers, and law enforcement.
- Dank, M., Yu, L., Yahner, J., Pelletier, E., Mora, M., and Conner, B. 2015. Locked In: Interactions with the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems for LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Who Engage in Survival Sex. Urban Institute.
Part of a three-year study of LGBT youth, YMSM, and YWSW in NYC. Researchers led in-depth interviews with 283 youth engaged in survival sex. Two-thirds of respondents had ever been stopped, questioned, and frisked by police; 19% indicated weekly or daily police contact. Youth reported police profiling of race, sexuality, or gender nonconformity initiated contact. 15% of youth reported that if police found condoms during a stop, they used it as justification for further questioning and prostitution-related offenses. 70% of youth had been arrested for ‘quality of life’ or misdemeanor crimes other than prostitution leading to further lifestyle instability and continued need for survival sex. Youth reported they were locked in a cycle of criminal justice involvement. Only 9% of youth had been arrested for a prostitution-related charge, leading to a false perception by police or courts that LGBT youth were not engaged in survival sex or CSEC. During arrest on a prostitution-related charge, 9% of youth reported feeling unsafe, and experienced violence or abuse from police e.g. verbal harassment, beating or choking, sexual assault (or exchange of sex) for release from custody, rape, denial of help when reporting a crime against police, or destruction or theft of personal property. Youth indicated police violence led to both physical injury and psychological injury, including PTSD. Only 18% of youth viewed police interaction as “occasionally positive,” and that perceptions were based on how they had previously been treated by police. Most youth reported that they tried to avoid police.
- Greene, J. M., Ennett, S. T., & Ringwalt, C. L. (1999). Prevalence And Correlates Of Survival Sex Among Runaway And Homeless Youth. American Journal Of Public Health, 89(9), 1406-1409.
The study examines the prevalence and correlates of survival sex among runaway and homeless youths. Researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of shelter youths and a multi-city sample of street youths (N=600), finding that 27.5% in the street sample, and 9.5% of the shelter sample had engaged in survival sex. Participation in survival sex was significantly and positively related to age, length of time away from home, and previous hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital. In the shelter sample, survival sex was more common among males, Whites and those of ‘other’ race, those with substance-using family members, and youth who had previously been street-involved. The odds of engaging in survival sex increased for youth with prior victimization, those who had engaged in criminal behaviors, prior suicide attempts, had previous had a STD, or had been pregnant. Odds of engagement with survival sex increased for youth who had recent substance use and lifetime injection drug. The findings support the view that survival sex is an economic survival strategy linked to duration of and circumstances regarding homelessness. However, other factors, such as prior physical abuse, emotional abuse, and family drug use were also contributors. Findings indicate there is need for intensive and long-term services that meet economic needs, offer comprehensive counseling and treatment for drug addiction, mental health care, and family problems.
- Gwadz, M.V., Gostnell, K., Smolenski, C., Willis, B., Nish, D., Nolan, T.C., Tharaken, M. and Ritchie, A.S., 2009. The Initiation Of Homeless Youth Into The Street Economy. Journal Of Adolescence, 32(2), pp.357-377.
Homeless youth (HY) who lack employment in the formal economy typically turn to the street economy (e.g., prostitution, drug selling) for survival. Using social control theory, the authors explore factors influencing homeless youth’s initiation into the street economy. Eighty homeless youth (ages 15-23) were recruited from four community-based organizations. All participated in structured interviews and 25% participated in qualitative interviews. Almost all homeless youth had participated in the street (81%) and formal economies (69%). Five main factors simultaneously influenced initiation into the street economy: social control/bonds, barriers to the formal economy (e.g., homelessness, educational deficits, mental health problems, incarceration, stigma), tangible and social/emotional benefits of the street economy, severe economic need, and the active recruitment of homeless into the street economy by others. Social control theory provided only a partial explanation for street economy initiation. Homeless youth with stronger bonds to conventional society faced fewer barriers to the formal economy. However, homeless youth often had stronger bonds with unconventional society, often beginning in childhood family and community experiences. Homeless youth often access street capital when conventional sources are barred. Qualitative and quantitative data sources were congruent. Intervention efforts are needed at multiple levels of influence to promote homeless youth’s success in the formal economy.
- Varma, S., Gillespie, S., McCracken, C., & Greenbaum, V. J. (2015). Characteristics Of Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation And Sex Trafficking Victims Presenting For Medical Care In The United States. Child Abuse & Neglect, 44, 98-105.
The study describes distinguishing characteristics of commercial sexual exploitation of children/child sex trafficking victims (CSEC) who present for health care in the pediatric setting. This is a retrospective study of medical records, for patients aged 12–18 years who presented to any of three pediatric emergency departments or one child protection clinic, and who were identified as suspected victims of CSEC. The sample was compared with gender and age-matched patients with allegations of child sexual abuse/sexual assault (CSA) without evidence of CSEC on variables related to demographics, medical and reproductive history, high-risk behavior, injury history and exam findings. There were 84 study participants, 27 in the CSEC group and 57 in the CSA group. Average age was 15.7 years for CSEC patients and 15.2 years for CSA patients; 100% of the CSEC and 94.6% of the CSA patients were female. The two groups significantly differed in 11 evaluated areas with the CSEC patients more likely to have had experiences with violence, substance use, running away from home, and involvement with child protective services and/or law enforcement. CSEC patients also had a longer history of sexual activity. Adolescent CSEC victims differ from sexual abuse victims without evidence of CSEC in their reproductive history, high-risk behavior, involvement with authorities, and history of violence.
- Walls, N. E., & Bell, S. (2011). Correlates Of Engaging In Survival Sex Among Homeless Youth And Young Adults. Journal Of Sex Research, 48(5), 423-436.
Using a sample of 1,625 homeless youth and young adults aged 10 to 25 from 28 different states in the United States, this study examines the correlates of having engaged in survival sex. Findings suggest that differences exist based on demographic variables (gender, age, race, and sexual orientation), lifetime drug use (inhalants, ValiumTM, crack cocaine, alcohol, CoricidinTM, and morphine), recent drug use (alcohol, ecstasy, heroin, and methamphetamine), mental health variables (suicide attempts, familial history of substance use, and having been in substance abuse treatment), and health variables (sharing needles and having been tested for HIV). In addition to replicating previous findings, this study’s findings suggest that African American youth; gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth; and youth who had been tested for HIV were significantly more likely to have engaged in survival sex than White, heterosexual youth, and youth who had not been tested for HIV, respectively. Implications for interventions with youth and suggestions for future research are discussed.