Welcome to the Loyola University Newsroom

Print this page

The Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola University New Orleans Publishes Groundbreaking Report on Sex and Labor Trafficking among Homeless Youth in the United States and Canada

Loyola press release - April 19, 2017

Today Loyola University New Orleans’s Modern Slavery Research Project (MSRP) launched a groundbreaking report on the prevalence and extent of trafficking among homeless and marginally-housed youth in the United States and Canada. For the study, Director Laura Murphy and the MSRP research team interviewed 641 homeless and runaway youth between the ages of 17-24 years old. The 641 respondents were clients of Covenant House shelters, transitional living centers, apartment programs, and drop-in centers. The confidential and anonymous interviews were conducted between February 2014 and June 2016 in 10 major North American cities using a screening tool called the Human Trafficking Interview and Assessment Measure (HTIAM-14). Dr. Murphy said, “Our hope is that hearing the firsthand voices of survivors in this report will help us further develop appropriate and effective programs that make escape possible for victims and ultimately make our youth more resilient against traffickers.”

The U.S. federal definition of human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in labor or sex trade against their will. The MSRP’s key findings illustrate how homeless youth are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking because they tend to experience a higher rate of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. Findings also show that gender, sexuality, and age are also factors. If the homeless youth have a history of sexual abuse, mental illness, or have families who are involved in the commercial sex trade or gangs, their risk of being trafficked is even higher.

Of the 641 interviewed, nearly one in five (19% or 124) were identified as victims of some sort of human trafficking. The statistics in the report reveal:

  • More than 14% (92) of the interviewees had been trafficked for sex; of these 92 youth, nearly 58% were in situations of force fraud, or coercion. The median age of entry into trading sex was 18, while the median age for those who were considered trafficked was 16.
  • 20% (49) of cisgender women interviewed reported experiences consistent with the definition of sex trafficking, as did 11% (40) of cisgender men.
  • 24% (30) of LGBTQ youth were trafficked for sex, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ youth.
  • 19% (121) of the youth interviewed turned to survival sex at some difficult point in their lives.
  • 30% (193) of all youth interviewed had engaged in some way in the sex trade at some point in their lifetimes; 24% (93) of the young men, 38% (93) of the young women, either through situations of force, survival sex, or commercial sexual work as adults.
  • 8.1% (52) of respondents said they had been labor trafficked in factories, domestic labor situations, agriculture, international drug smuggling, sex-trade-related labor, and commission-based sales.
  • The vast majority (81%) of labor trafficking cases reported in this study were instances of forced drug dealing. Nearly 7% (42) of all youth interviewed had been forced into working in the drug trade. Forced drug dealing occurred through familial and cultural coercion, as well as through the violence of suppliers and gangs.
  • 3% (22) were trafficked for both sex and labor.
  • Overall, 91% of respondents reported being approached by someone who was offering an opportunity for income that turned into trafficking as well as other offers for commercial sexual exchanges, fraudulent commission based sales, credit card scams, stolen phone sales, and check fraud.

Homeless youth indicated in MSRP’s interviews that they struggled to find paid work, affordable housing, and support systems that would help them access basic necessities. For the vast majority of youth interviewed, economic factors made them most vulnerable to traffickers and unwanted engagement in the sex trade. Youth reported that their fear of sleeping on the streets left them susceptible to sex and labor traffickers and to survival sex. With regard to labor trafficking and work, the youth interviewed indicated they encountered people who took advantage of them when they were searching for gainful employment.

One in five of all cisgender women and one in ten of all cisgender men interviewed told of an experience that was considered sex trafficking. LGBTQ youth were disproportionately affected by sex trafficking and significantly more likely to report unwanted engagement in the sex trade. In addition, aging out of the foster care system made many youths more vulnerable to traffickers.

Based on these findings, the MSRP recommends a four-pronged approach to how the U.S. and Canada can begin to address the issue: Prevention, Outreach, Confidential Identification, and Specialized Interventions. The report also includes recommendations that can help legislators shape new laws to protect youth from exploitation as well as suggestions for best practices for social service providers that work with homeless youth.

Loyola University New Orleans’s Modern Slavery Research Project (MSRP) works to make escape possible for victims of human trafficking in the U.S. and around the world through data-driven, community-based research that better serves survivors and supports advocates who are on the front lines of identifying and assisting those held captive in modern slavery.

For more information on MSRP, please visit www.modernslaveryresearch.org or email Dr. Laura T. Murphy, lmurphy@loyno.edu.

Covenant House International is the largest, primarily privately-funded charity in the Americas offering housing, outreach, and support services to homeless youth. Each year, the organization helps more than 50,000 youth in 30 cities in six countries. For more information, visit www.covenanthouse.org.

EDS: Please contact Karen Biever Bailey at (917) 439-3993 or Patricia Murret at 504-352-8775 to schedule an interview with Dr. Laura Murphy.