Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade


Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade

Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade

With funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Center for Court Innovation conducted a multi-site study designed to increase scientific knowledge concerning youth involvement in the sex trade. Nearly 1,000 youth, ages 13-24, were interviewed across six sites on subjects including entry into the sex trade, earning a living, finding customers, involvement of pimps and market facilitators, health issues and service needs, interactions with law enforcement, and outlook for the future. The six sites are:

Atlantic City, N.J.
Chicago, Ill.
Dallas, Tex.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Miami, Fla.
The Bay Area, Calif.

A multi-site report report features a quantitative analysis of findings from youth interviews across all six sites, a population estimate for underage youth in the sex trade throughout the U.S., an analysis of data from official criminal justice data sources, and findings from interviews with service provides and police officers. Six additional reports (one per site) provide a rich set of themes, findings, and testimonies representing the voices of those interviewed. 

Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade: A National Study
By Rachel Swaner, Melissa Labriola, Michael Rempel, Allyson Walker, and Joseph Spadafore

This report presents findings from nearly 1,000 youth interviews conducted across six sites, a population estimate for underage youth in the sex trade in the United States, arrest patterns and prosecution and recidivism outcomes for these youth when they encounter the juvenile or criminal justice systems, and findings from interviews with service providers and police officers. The findings revealed that youth who are engaged in the sex trade are a diverse population in their identities and experiences. More than three-quarters of those interviewed had their first experience in the sex trade when they were under the age of 18. Many reported having complex social relationships and collaborations with others in the underground economy. Notably, the most pressing need identified by both the youth and service providers was for safe housing.

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Atlantic City
By Anthony Marcus, Robert Riggs, Sarah Rivera, and Ric Curtis

This report discusses the context, methodology, and findings from in-depth interviews conducted with nearly 100 youth in the sex trade in Atlantic City, N.J. Classic street ethnography gives this study strong insight into the nature of street-based sex trade in Atlantic City and its surrounding environs. Findings suggest that very few of the street-based sex workers in that area are younger than 18 years of age and that the typical market-involved youth in Atlantic City is white, between ages 19 and 24, uses drugs regularly, is a runaway from a challenging family situation, has experienced rape or other sexual abuse at some time in his or her life, and is highly vulnerable to street-based violence.

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Chicago: Issues in Youth Poverty and Homelessness
By Laurie Schaffner, Grant Buhr, deana lewis, Marco Roc, and Haley Volpintesta

This study of youth engaged in the sex trade in Chicago, Ill. included interviews with over 200 young people, ages 13-24. The sample was composed of a considerable number of males—47%, the highest percentage of male interviewees from any of the sites in the larger study. An additional 11% were trans female. The research team divided the city into three distinct sections and recruited participants from those areas: Northside, which they found to be a relatively "safe" neighborhood for young, African-American trans females and gay males; Southside, whose interview participants tended to be networked to those on the Northside (despite notable differences in neighborhood context); and Westside, where the team found there to be more pimps and adults controlling and monitoring the streets.

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in North Texas: Shattered Lives
By Marcus Martin, Heather Champeau, Susan Ullrich, Aja Johnson, and Kathryn Cardarelli

This study in Dallas, Tex. included interviews with youth, ages 13-24, who were engaged in the sex trade. Most of the youth interviewed worked on their own and were not closely networked to others in the sex trade. Researchers repeatedly found strong-willed survivors who enjoyed substantial autonomy in the selection of customers, work hours, and living conditions. For many transgender and gay youth, personal or familial struggles as a result of their sexuality and/or gender identity may have led them into the sex trade.

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Las Vegas
By Brooke M. Wagner, Jennifer M. Whitmer, and Andrew L. Spivak

This report discusses the context and findings from 169 in-depth interviews conducted with youth ages 24 and younger in Las Vegas, Nev. Researchers found that many of the youth drifted in and out of the sex trade, engaging when quick money was needed, but also going through non-working periods, mirroring the instability that participants also faced in their living situations and in their relationships with family and school. Researchers suggest that the sexualized cultural climate of Las Vegas strongly contributes to the way the sex trade has manifested itself there.

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Miami
By David J. Maurrasse, Cynthia C. Jones, Marga Incorporated

This study of youth engaged in the sex trade in Miami, Fla. included 264 interviews with young people ages 13-24, nearly all of whom were black or Hispanic and from lower income backgrounds. Most of the respondents faced various social and economic challenges throughout their young lives, and engaging in the sex trade served as a way to support an insecure living situation. Many worked on the streets year-round, given Miami’s warm weather even in winter months. Findings show that many of the youth are essentially freelancers, working independently in an underground economy. 

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in the Bay Area
By Nikki Jones and Joshua Gamson, with Brianne Amato, Stephanie Cornwell, Stephanie Fisher, Phillip Fucella, Vincent Lee, and Virgie Zolala-Tovar

This study in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif. included 136 interviews with youth engaged in the sex trade. Findings show that young people’s involvement in the sex trade mostly fell into three categories: pimps, renegades, and street kids. Although the Bay Area site saw the highest percentage of youth working with pimps (29%) as compared to the other five sites in the study, the large majority of those interviewed were identified as “renegades”—a term used to describe individuals who work on their own without anyone to facilitate their involvement in the sex trade. The third group, “street kids,” typically reported engaging in sex work sporadically, as necessary to meet immediate needs for money or shelter, and understood their involvement in sexual exchanges as one among a range of “hustles” they use to get by.

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