November is National Runaway Prevention Month! Youth who have run away from home are extremely vulnerable to victimization and make especially attractive targets for commercial sexual exploitation. For our fall newsletter, we’ll be taking a look at why that is, and how data can be used by service providers to help youth break out of the cycle.
When it comes to commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), exact data is hard to come by. Shame is a powerful motivator, and many are afraid to come forward due to fear of judgement, isolation, or retaliation by traffickers or the legal system. But thanks to dedicated researchers and increasing public awareness, we do have data that can shed light on just how connected CSE and unstable housing really are. So while we’ll never know exactly how many individuals are involved in CSE, we can use the data we do have to guide us in assisting people who do come to us.
Provider Spotlight ~ National Runaway Safe Line
National Runaway Safeline is an amazing hotline and network of resources for teens and their guardians, designed to prevent youth homelessness and reduce the harm teens go through as they’re experiencing it. With bi-partisan and presidential support from then-President Bush, they started National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) in 2002, creating a month-long campaign from a week-long event.⁴
They can be reached for confidential help via phone, text, IM, and email, making their services extremely accessible. See their website https://www.1800runaway.org/ for contact info, a forum, handouts, and more!
SO HOW DO WE RESPOND?
The best way to respond to anyone in crisis is to listen to them when they tell you what they need. In many studies, including the 2013 and 2016 studies cited above, the youth were simply looking to have their basic needs met. Needs like housing, crisis intervention, mental health care, food, clothing, steady income, and health care are all needs that social service agencies like ours work to provide. And although not everyone can provide every service, with strong teamwork, wrap-around services can change a youth’s trajectory.
When we do presentations, we often explain exploitation like this: if all of the individual’s needs were met, would they still choose to engage in that sexual activity? If not, that’s a red flag that might indicate force, fraud, or coercion is creating an exploitative situation. Our agency provides survivor advocacy, which can look like a lot of different things. We go with people to medical appointments, meet them in juvenile detention or jail to help make safety plans, walk with them through the legal process, and so much more.
But our program isn’t built to provide housing, mental health treatment, or employment. That’s why we love our community partners! They’re incredible people that can meet us and work with us to create great outcomes for CSE survivors. If you’re a provider in town, make it a point to recognize what services you can’t provide, and reach out to organizations that can. By strengthening that circle, we can come together to provide what CSE survivors are asking for, which enables them to decide if they want to continue in sex work of their own accord (if they are over 18 and it’s legal where they live) or leave it for something else.
*We follow all mandatory reporting laws, and report any suspected child or vulnerable adult abuse to CPS/APS.