Empowering LGBTQ Youth All Year Long

This past June, My Life My Choice staff marched in the Boston Pride parade for the first time.  We marched to represent and support LGBTQ youth who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. My Life My Choice serves the most vulnerable in our community, including LGBTQ youth—young people who have endured extremely unfair life circumstances, simply because of who they are.

It is well documented that LGBTQ youth face higher rates of discrimination, homelessness, violence, economic instability and rejection from their families, communities, and employers that make them more vulnerable to exploitation. (1) Searching for love and acceptance, many of the youth we serve turn to the streets where exploiters and buyers easily take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Homelessness is a primary risk factor for youth who are forced or coerced into exploitation. Here are some notable statistics about homeless LGBTQ youth:

  • 2x more likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12 than their non-LGBTQ
    peers (2)

  • 7.4x more likely to experience acts of sexual violence (2)

  • 3-7x more likely to exchange sex to meet their basic needs (3),(4)

Exploitation among LGBTQ youth is often erroneously referred to as “survival sex.”  The problem with this term is that it implies that LGBTQ youth are willingly selling themselves in order to meet their basic needs. It also takes the blame off buyers since the term suggests that buyers are the only way youth can get their basic needs met. The United States 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is clear that any child exchanging sex for anything of value is being commercially sexually exploited – this includes “survival sex”.  As such, “survival sex” is on par with “child prostitute” – they both imply choice where there is none.  Words matter and terms like these sanitize the trauma and brutality of exploitation. 

 As Pride month comes to an end, we reflect back on why we marched, why it is important, and how much work needs to be done. We marched to honor and stand with the LGBTQ communities who have suffered from severe oppression and violence, and we marched to raise awareness that LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for being commercially sexually exploited. We will continue to demonstrate our values of authenticity, community and unconditional love to empower LGBTQ youth all year long. 

 By: AJ Espensen, MPH and Sonja Solberg Potter

References:

  1.  Xian, K., Chock, S., & Dwiggins, D. (2017). LGBTQ Youth and Vulnerability to Sex Trafficking. In Human Trafficking Is a Public Health Issue (pp. 141-152). Springer, Cham.

  2. National Coalition for the Homeless. (2009). LGBTQ Homeless. Retrieved from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/lgbtq.html

  3.  Covenant House New York. (2013). Homelessness, Survival Sex and Human Trafficking: As Experienced by the Youth of Covenant House New York. Retrieved from https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/sites/default/files/Homelessness,%20Survival%20Sex,%20and%20Human%20Trafficking%20-%20Covenant%20House%20NY.pdf

  4. Polaris Project. Sex Trafficking and LGBTQ Youth. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/sites/default/files/LGBTQ-Sex-Trafficking.pdf

ASHLEY BERMUDEZ