Prevalence of Sex Trafficking among Homeless & Runaway Youths

Jan 07th, 2020

By: Sandra Amaya, Program Intern

According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) there are over 23,5000 runaway children in the U.S.  An estimated 1 in 7 of these children are likely being trafficked (NCMEC, 2018).  Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit an individual(s) into performing labor and/or commercial sex services (National Human Trafficking Hotline, n.d.). 

Homeless and runaway youth are commonly sexually exploited for financial gain via sex trafficking, which includes escort services, residential brothels, and pornography.  Victims can be lured into human trafficking through social media or job ads in the newspaper.  The magnitude of human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of minors, is thought to be underreported.  Polaris is a national organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking.  In 2018, Polaris reported 23,078 survivors contacted their national hotline; 21% of survivors identified as minors.  Most survivors were trafficked for sex at the age of 15-17, but the average reported age of a person currently being trafficked is 18 years old. (Polaris, 2018)

Runaway and homeless children, youth leaving foster care, and children in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems are at a higher risk of being trafficked (U.S. Department of State, 2019).  Traffickers take advantage of the fact that homeless and runaway youths do not have safe homes or strong social support networks (Polaris, 2018).  Sex trafficking is prevalent among homeless and runaway youths in the DC metro region.  In 2016, there were an estimated 1,397 homeless youths in Maryland (Maryland Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2019).  Law enforcement officers and prosecutors in the D.C metro region state that most of the human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation.  These victims are then held by traffickers to be trafficked within D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. (Robinson, 2018). 

The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research, and the Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project (MSRP) conducted research in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada, including Washington, D.C.  Out of the 911 individuals surveyed 19% were victims of human trafficking; 68% of trafficked youths engaged in commercial sex in order to survive.  91% of respondents were approached by strangers or acquaintances who offered false job opportunities and 19% engaged in survival sex for food or housing.  (Covenant House, n.d.).  Efforts must be tailored to serve this high risk population.

MCASA’s Coordinated Actions Against Sex Trafficking (CAAST) program was created to serve sex trafficking survivors.  CAAST builds collaborative relationships with health care facilities, law enforcement policy-makers and other victim service organizations in the local community.  CAAST also participates in local human trafficking task forces including the Maryland Human Trafficking Task force.  MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute and CAAST provide legal services for survivors of human trafficking.  Additionally, CAAST works with 6 rape crisis centers and their human traffickers’ coordinators to assist survivors in accessing the services needed to rebuild their lives.  Staff is trained in how to identify sex trafficking victims and the unique resources they may need.  If you on someone you know is a survivor of sex trafficking, call SALI at 301-565-2277.



Covenant House. (n.d.). Human Trafficking Study | Covenant House. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from

Maryland Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2019). 2018 Annual Report on Homelessness Maryland Interagency Council on Homelessness ~ Prepared for: Housing and Community Development Article § 4-2107.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. (2018). Child Sex Trafficking. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from

National Human Trafficking Hotline. (n.d.). Human Trafficking | National Human Trafficking Hotline. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from

Polaris. (2018). 2018 U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics | Polaris. Retrieved November 6, 2019, from

Robinson, C. S. L. (2018). An Analysis of Human Trafficking in the District of Columbia 2016.

United States Department of State, (2019). 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report

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