Young adults experiencing homelessness (YAEH) report alarming rates of human trafficking (Middleton, 2018). Murphy (2017) found that approximately one-fifth of homeless youth reported being trafficked; of those, 76% experienced sex trafficking and 43% labor trafficking. In addition, YAEH have high rates of child welfare and juvenile justice system involvement (Narendorf et al., 2020). While it is documented that children exiting foster care are vulnerable to human trafficking (Fong & Cordosa, 2010), research is sparse on the association between juvenile justice and dual-system involvement and human trafficking. Furthermore, little is known about the relationship between the type of previous system-involvement and the nature of trafficking victimization.
The purpose of this study is to:(1) examine rates of system-involvement (i.e., child welfare, juvenile justice, and dual-system) among a sample of YAEH, (2) examine the relationship between system-involvement and trafficking victimization in the form of force, fraud, coercion and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), and (3) explore the relationship between type of system involvement and type of trafficking.
Our study uses data from the 2018 Atlanta Youth Count (AYC18) survey, a follow-up study to the 2015 AYC, which used a sophisticated capture-recapture method. The Human Trafficking Screening Tool (HTST) was used to measure lifetime trafficking victimization across four domains; (1) force, (2) fraud, (3) coercion, and (4) CSE (Cronbach’s Alpha=0.922) (Dank, et al. 2017). Participants were also asked about various life experiences and psychosocial characteristics.
The average age of the sample (N=564) was 21 years (SD=2.4): 52% between the ages of 18 and 21. The racial/ethnic composition was 56% Black, 32% Multiracial, 7% White, and 4% other. Almost 30% identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other, and 7% identified as transgender. Approximately 30% reported being homeless for over one year, while 27.5% were chronically homeless. Over half of the sample (54%) reported system-involvement; 20% foster care, 17 % juvenile justice, and 18% both systems.
Results indicate significant relationships between system involvement and trafficking; system involved YAEH were more likely than non-system involved YAEH to experience force (p = .041); fraud (p = .002); coercion (p = .002); and, CSE (p = .006).
Dual-system involved youth report being trafficked by force at a higher rate (42%) than foster care (34%) or juvenile justice (32%) system-involved youth. Almost half of juvenile justice (49%) and dual system (49%) involved youth experienced fraud and coercion at a higher rate than foster care alone (34% and 40% respectively). Furthermore, one-third (32%) of dual system-involved youth reported CSE at higher rates than foster care (20%), and juvenile justice (16%) involved youth.
Findings have significant policy and practice implications for child welfare, juvenile justice, and homeless service providers. YAEH, with any system-involvement, are at increased risk of being trafficked. However, results suggest a cumulative risk model, whereby dual-system involvement significantly increases the risk for CSE.Homeless service providers should be aware of the association between system involvement and all forms of trafficking while paying particular attention to the increased risk that dual-system involved youth face.