Recently, large cities held their nationally coordinated Point-in-Time (PIT) Count. An attempt to count all of the homeless people in their area who weren’t in a shelter: those found on park benches, under bridges, tent cities and on the subways, etc.
This is a noble effort, but in many cases homeless youth are overlooked. Especially the youth who are couch surfing, or worse, trading sex for a safe place to sleep (survival sex).
Many youth experience harassment and bullying in an adult shelter and feel unsafe sleeping around so many older men/women so they turn toward survival sex in exchange for a spot to stay.
Unlike sex trafficking, survival sex is not a financial transaction. Survival sex is, quite simply, exchanging one’s body for basic subsistence needs, including clothing, food, and shelter.
While estimates vary, most figures put the homeless youth population in the U.S. around 1.5 million. These are kids under the age of 18 who were often either kicked out of their homes because of dwindling financial resources or ran away to escape an abusive, volatile environment.
Once on the streets, these teens rapidly find that clothing, food, and shelter are far from guaranteed. Without any money or the ability to get a job, many are forced to rely on their bodies as the only commodity they possess.
Prostitution, commercial sex acts, and survival sex are deeply bound up with one another, but they are all also strongly associated with running away from home at an early age.
In other words, trying to resolve teenage prostitution and sexual victimization starts with understanding why teenagers run away from home in the first place.
While it does happen, rarely are people just plucked off the streets, thrown into the back of a van, and manacled.
Unfortunately, survival sex is woven into the fabric of a near-invisible world where the human body is the main form of currency.
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