University of Southern Mississippi/Arizona State University
Background and Purpose: LGBTQ+ youth account for a disproportionate rate of the runaway and homeless youth population, and experience disproportionately high rates of victimization. In a six-year analysis, from 2014-2019, the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research completed a study entitled the Youth Experiences Survey (YES): Exploring the Sex Trafficking Experiences of Homeless Young Adults in Arizona, which explores the sexual exploitation experiences of homeless youth and young adults, including LGBTQ+ individuals.
Methods: In July 2019, a cross-sectional purposeful sampling design was used to recruit 164 homeless young adults (ages 18–25) from greater Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, to complete the Youth Experiences Survey. The Youth Experiences Survey (YES) is a 65-item, paper and pencil self-administered survey which has been given each year for the past six years to a complex and difficult population to assess. Respondents were drawn from four agencies including UMOM, Our Family Services, One•n•ten, and Native American Connections.
Bivariate analyses were conducted to compare each of the outcome variables for the sex trafficked LGBTQ+ homeless young adults versus the sex trafficked heterosexual homeless young adults. Chi-square tests were used to examine differences for categorical variables.
Results: In 2019, over half (n = 34, 60.7%) of the respondents who identified as having experienced sex trafficking victimization identified as LGBTQ.
Findings: The findings from this study have demonstrated a consistent increase in LGBTQ+ identification over the past six years, with the research demonstrating LGBTQ+ individuals to be two times more likely than heterosexual individuals to report experiencing sex trafficking victimization. LGBTQ+ participants were increasingly likely over the four years to report being a sex trafficking victim from 38% in 2014 to 62% in 2019 of the sex trafficked group.
Over 40% of the sample reported having been sex trafficked, and of those, 62% were LGBTQ+. Further, amongst the sample, the odds of being LGBTQ+ and sex trafficked were two times higher compared to being heterosexual. Sex trafficked LGBTQ+ homeless young adults were found to be significantly more likely to report higher rates of challenging life experiences, including having current medical issues, PTSD diagnosis, history of dating violence, being bullied, and being harassed by peers.
Implications: Future studies are needed to understand and explore the time order of LGBTQ homelessness and sex trafficking experiences. Future studies can include, but not limited to, examining aspects of recruitment, relationship(s) to their trafficker, and whether they self-identify as LGBTQ before or after their sex trafficking experience. Researchers can also focus on pathways into sex trafficking for homeless LGBTQ young adults. New programs and evaluation of innovative treatments for LGBTQ young adults who have been sex trafficked are necessary to meet the needs of this specific population.