Policymakers and funders should consider the diverse backgrounds and experiences of youth involved in the sex trade when deciding how to provide services, says the Center for Court Innovation, reports Youth Today. Focusing on girls with pimps does not fully capture the lives of youth involved in the sex trade, says a survey from the court center, which interviewed nearly 1,000 youth ages 13 to 24 who trade sex for money, housing, food or other goods in six cities. Many of the youth interviewed are male or transgender, most do not have pimps, and many feel they have chosen their lives, if from among very limited options, says the report, which was funded by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
“Helping these various subgroups escape ‘the life’ will require more than a single, generic model; it will require policymakers to create multifaceted initiatives that grapple with the realities on the ground — including how this young population conceives of itself,” the researchers wrote. The center’s Rachel Swaner said service providers come at the issue from various angles. Some are focused on a single mission of helping youth in the sex trade, while others work with a broader population, such as homeless youth or LGBT youth, that includes some young people who are involved in the sex trade. To be effective, programs must be mindful of the language used to talk about the sex trade and must be responsive to how youth think about and talk about their lives, the center says. For example, the terms “trafficked” or “commercially exploited” don’t resonate with all youth and may stop them from seeking services. Similarly, a focus on girls or young women will not reach everyone. In the study, 60 percent of youth identified as female, 36 percent as male, 4 percent as transgender female and 1 percent as transgender male.