Policy Advocacy and Human Trafficking

Written by: Eric Masten, Director of Public Policy, National Network for Youth

Recently, former-President Obama proclaimed January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Unfortunately, human trafficking still occurs throughout our country, and youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are particularly susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking. Throughout the country, the National Network for Youth’s members, funded through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) provide support and assistance to runaway or homeless youth who are particularly at risk of being victims of either sex or labor trafficking.

Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth each year, but common reasons are family dysfunction, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and sexual abuse. Youth who have been victims of abuse are more likely to exchange sex for basic necessities that they lack. A 2016 study from the Administration on Children and Families’ Family and Youth Services Bureau noted that nearly one-quarter of participants (24.1%) exchanged sex for money, 27.5% exchanged sex for shelter, and other participants exchanged sex for other basic needs such as food or protection.

Homeless youth are also vulnerable to labor trafficking because the traffickers promise them what they do not have – food, housing and employment. In a survey conducted with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, of the homeless youth providers that screened for child labor trafficking, each program had identified at least one labor trafficked youth.

Fortunately, RHYA funded programs have experience providing youth at risk of being trafficked with a safe place to stay and offer services to survivors of trafficking to help them heal from the trauma they have faced. Street Outreach Programs help 25,000 youth find shelter each year. In particular, Street Outreach Programs work closely with other organizations that work to protect and treat young people who have been or are at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation. Basic Center Programs and Transitional Living Programs prevent vulnerable youth from becoming victims of human trafficking by providing them with a safe place to stay, crisis interventions services and meeting their basic needs.

RHYA, legislation that is vital in helping to prevent and support youth and young adults who are vulnerable to trafficking because they are experiencing homelessness, is now due to be reauthorized. More than 50 national organizations have come together as part of the National Coalition for Homeless Youth to support reauthorizing RHYA by passing the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. With a strong history of bipartisan support, this legislation will ensure that providers throughout the country continue to provide its crucial programs that support youth who are, or are at risk of, experiencing homelessness and potentially being trafficked.

Visit the National Network for Youth’s webpage to learn more about the intersection between human trafficking and runaway and homeless youth.

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