In our relentless efforts to combat child trafficking, it is crucial to examine the circumstances that either safeguard or endanger children. Certain factors can increase vulnerability, such as bullying, familial rejection, limited employment opportunities, stigma, low self-esteem, and the absence of supportive relationships. Conversely, protective elements include physical and psychological safety, supportive family connections, protective laws, acceptance, love, and healthy friendships and mentors.
Many LGBTQ+ youth face heightened vulnerabilities and reduced protections, creating a domino effect that increases their risk to trafficking and exploitation.
Heightened Vulnerabilities for LGBTQ+ Youth
We have had youth in our Survivor Care directly tell us that they ran away because their families didn’t accept their gender or sexual orientation.
Rejection (and fear of rejection) puts children at significant risk, as they seek connections from people they believe will accept them. One of our Survivor Care social workers shared, “I’ve had youth tell me that they didn’t share their identity with their immediate circle, only with people they met online.”
When families and communities reject LGBTQ+ youth, the consequences can be devastating. These young individuals are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their LGBTQ+ peers who experience little or no family rejection. Beyond the risks of suicide, this rejection makes youth more vulnerable to exploitation: when youth lack supportive relationships and feel rejected by their families and communities or origin, they’re going to be easier for a trafficker to groom and target.
For the many LGBTQ+ youth, the very systems intended to protect and foster resilience, such as family, laws, religion, and peer groups, can become sources of stigma and ostracization. Unfortunately, this heightened vulnerability contributes to an overrepresentation of LGBTQ+ youth among homeless populations, with 20% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ+ and significantly increasing the risk of falling victim to trafficking.
Difficulties In Accessing Help for LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ youth who are trafficked often face challenges in seeking help. Fears of discrimination and a lack of understanding from service providers can deter them from reaching out. This leads to under-identification among this population, and lack of support can leave these youth vulnerable and isolated in their exploitation. Even when they do seek assistance, these youth are frequently unrecognized as victims, as misperceptions and discrimination results in their gender or sexual orientation often being incorrectly attributed as a basis for their exploitation. Sadly, service providers often lack the necessary training and intentionality to effectively support LGBTQ+ youth in these situations. Service providers, explicit and implicit messaging, funders, and research frequently focus on a gender binary framework of “boys and girls,” resulting in services that predominantly cater to the needs of cisgendered girls, while ignoring males and nonbinary individuals, or worse portraying these individuals as exclusively perpetrators.
The Urgency to Better Support LGBTQ+ Youth
It’s evident that we need to do better in supporting LGBTQ+ youth and addressing the root causes that contribute to their vulnerability. Organizations like Love146 and many others are working to end trafficking and improve safety for every child, including LGBTQ+ youth. Your donations can ensure that vulnerable youth and survivors receive support from providers who convey the message that victimization is never a child’s fault, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Your generosity also supports our child trafficking prevention curriculum “Not a Number,” which has been designed to be inclusive, including for LGBTQ+ youth.
In a world where the LGBTQ+ community has faced its share of challenges, it’s essential to remember that every child deserves safety and support. Understanding the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth in relation to child trafficking is crucial for creating effective prevention and intervention strategies. By addressing these vulnerabilities and improving protections, we can strive towards a future where all children are free from exploitation and harm.