Runaway children are one of the populations most at risk for child sexual exploitation. A recent study on the sexual exploitation of runaway children by the University of Denver found that nearly 10% of runaway children interviewed had reported to have resorted to or had been coerced into engaging in commercial sex for survival on the streets.
We took a look at the study and identified four key reasons why runaway youth are at such high risk for sexual exploitation, and possible ways you can help combat each one.
1 – Lack of Food and Resources
When children are desperately lacking basic needs such as food, shelter or other sustenance needs, they can become more vulnerable to those looking to make money off exploiting children. According to the National Runaway Safeline, sexual exploitation of runaway children are exploited for these basic needs within 48 hours of leaving home.
One way to alleviate the risk of the sexual exploitation of runaway children caused by lack of food and shelter is to support food banks and youth-specific homeless shelters. The National Runaway Safeline is also a great resource for those seeking help and for those who may want to offer help.
2 -History of Previous Abuse
The University of Denver’s study showed that many runaway youth have left home because of some sort of child maltreatment, including sexual abuse. The same study concluded that history of previous abuse puts these children at a higher risk of further sexual exploitation. Working to address the issues of abuse and runaways in families is important to decreasing the number of children who end up on the streets, at risk for child exploitation.
Thorn is proud to partner with several organizations that are working to help runaway youth such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and GEMS Girls, which empowers girls to exit the commercial sex trafficking industry.
3 – Drug and Alcohol Abuse
The University of Denver found that chronic drug and alcohol use strongly correlated with sexual exploitation, in particular, commercial sexual exploitation by pimps. The study found that certain drugs such as Crack, Ecstasy, Morphine Methamphetamine, and Ketamine correlated more significantly with commercial sexual exploitation.
Keeping an eye out for addictive behaviors or drug usage in the children you care about may help prevent further abuse and/or runaways. You can find more information on our blog post about at-risk warning signs for runaways and child sexual exploitation.
4 -Poor Mental Health
The study also linked children with poor mental health to higher rates of commercial sexual exploitation. It identified depression and attempted suicide as red flags of poor mental health and risk for sexual exploitation.
NCMEC’s Family Advocacy Outreach Network has great resources on how parents can identify mental health indicators and can help prevent child sexual exploitation. Check out the Family Advocacy Outreach Network here.
BEFREE Text Short Code
Thorn’s BEFREE text short code is another resource that enables individuals to reach out if they are being exploited, or are worried that loved ones are being exploited. You can read more about the BEFREE text shortcode here.
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