Homelessness: Increasing vulnerability for exploitation


Earlier this year, Governor David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell declared a state of emergency as they have been addressing the Hawai’i homeless problem. The problem is ever growing and it is worsening every day. Given the high cost of living, limited land and community housing, low wage paying jobs, the number of homeless individuals and families is on the rise. Children and families are living under tarps, in tents, in cars, under bridges, and in parks with nowhere to go. Homelessness is prevalent on all of the IslandsThere are an estimated 487 homeless in Hawai’i per 100,000 people— the highest rate per capita followed by New York and Nevada according to federal statistics.  The correlation between trafficking and homelessness hasn’t received as much attention recently in the media and I would like to highlight the risk that youth face. Being homeless, significantly increases the vulnerability for children to be recruited, conned, and exploited through sex trafficking. Whether being homeless as a family or as an individual homeless/runaway youth —–survival can lead to desperate measures resulting in victimization.

Youth who end up homeless, may be running away to escape physical and sexual abuse and sadly, others have been ordered out of the home by parents who reject them or cannot afford to take care of them. Often disconnected from family and friends, homeless kids are particularly susceptible to traffickers who lure them with the promise of food, warmth, “safety and security” and false love. Once snatched from the streets without anyone noticing, they are sold for the highest price, their dignity and sense of self destroyed. Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth each year, but common reasons are family dysfunction or crisis, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and sexual abuse.

The following statistics are mind blowing and put into perspective the scope of the issue facing our state and our country.

The National Runaway Safeline presented the following data on runaway statistics:

  • Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away each year 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home.
  • Within 48 hours of a runaway being on the streets, ⅓ adolescents will be approached for sexual services

These young people often flee abuse and violence at home, but are exposed to further sexual victimization and human trafficking once on the street.

  • Less than 4% of all adolescents exchange sex for money, however 28% of youth living on the street and 10% of those in shelters engage in ‘survival sex’ in exchange for food, shelter or money.
  • If a youth has already been a victim of abuse, it increases the odds that he or she will exchange sex for shelter, food or other basic needs (often called “survival sex”).
  • 39% percent of the homeless population is under the age of 18
  • According to the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Network for Youth, the average age at which a teen first becomes homeless is 14.7 years old.
  • The homeless youth population in the United States has more than doubled since 2007.
  • An estimate of 2,780 Hawai’i youth may be at risk for CSE. This number is based on average of 3,976 runaway reports per year in the state of Hawai‘i (Attorney General’s Uniform Crime Report Statistics for the 10 years from 2003 to 2012) and that nationally greater than 70% of runaway youth are estimated to be endangered with the most common endangerment component was physical or sexual violence.
  • In Hawai’i there were reportedly 1,368 in Foster Care in 2012, with 611 females being confirmed victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect.
  • Minimally, there are hundreds of Hawai`i’s children who are vulnerable to traffickers each month and with this growing crisis we face in our beautiful state those numbers will only increase.

Both locally and nationally, we are facing a growing population of homeless youth who are readily being victimized through commercial sexual exploitation. Housing for homeless families and youth is a growing concern. Homeless youth who have been victimized and sexually exploited suffer from horrible traumas. Often this requires a tailored and intensive intervention with ideal placement being a longer term residential program. Given the complex needs of this population of children, managing and meeting the needs can be difficult for short term placements especially when there is not a home to return to.  Sometimes these children enter into the social and juvenile justice systems and these agencies are struggling to find services and referral resources specifically related to the trafficked child and especially services providing residential care and intervention. When children do not receive comprehensive services, they have a tendency to return back to the streets, back to the arms of those who exploit them. Research has proven that this population of children requires a comprehensive setting of care to begin to heal from their trauma.  If we do not provide rehabilitative residential care, we are contributing to further victimization of this population of children and we are also increasing the burden on society to care for these children who when they become adults may remain within the cycle of abuse, violence and homelessness of which costs our communities millions of dollars. The greater issue is that the innocence of these children is being stolen and they need hope for the future, opportunity for life changes, and a chance to dream again.

We continue to press forward to make Pearl Haven a reality for youth.

~ Jessica

Sources of Information:




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