The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of LGBTQ Youth
Every year approximately 300,000 children become victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 is the governing federal law that seeks to combat human trafficking. TVPA states that sex trafficking of children occurs when anyone under the age of 18 is induced to perform a “commercial sex act,” which is defined as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”
In recent years a number of jurisdictions throughout the country have increased their efforts to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Most of these reform efforts focus on the exploitation of girls, presumably heterosexual girls. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are, once again, an overlooked population in most of these initiatives.
Why are LGBTQ youth disproportionately represented among the CSEC population? The prevailing consensus it that the high level of homelessness among LGBTQ youth is the main contributing factor. Data collection on this population has been difficult for a number of reasons (e.g., many youth do not self-disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of harassment and/or discrimination; many providers harbor bias against LGBTQ youth, do not question youth about their identities, and/or are not trained in developing trusting relationships with LGBTQ youth). 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and they are homeless mostly due to family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. More than 40% of agencies serving homeless youth do not address issues related to this rejection.
Many homeless youth engage in survival sex (exchanging sex for food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Survival sex among this population is more common among young boys, and the majority of homeless LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to engage in survival sex as compared to their homeless heterosexual counterparts.
It is crucial that jurisdictions seeking to protect sexually exploited children include interventions and support services for LGBTQ youth and their families. My Safe Haven Victim Support Services does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, affectional orientation or gender identity, political affiliation, marital status, status with respect to public assistance, disability, or age in the delivery of services or employment practices.
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