Homeless Youths’ HIV Risk Behaviors with Strangers: Investigating the Importance of Social Networks
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between homeless youths’ HIV risk behaviors with strangers and risk and protective characteristics of their social networks. Data were from the Social Network and Homeless Youth Project. A total of 249 youth aged 14–21 years were interviewed over 15 months in three Midwestern cities in the United States using a systematic sampling strategy. Multivariate results revealed that homeless youth with a greater average number of network members who engaged in more drug risk behaviors and who pressured them into precarious behaviors at least once were more likely to have participated in a greater number of HIV risk behaviors with strangers compared to homeless youth without such network characteristics. Additionally, 19–21 year olds, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth, and those who have run away from home more frequently, participated in more HIV risk behaviors with strangers than 14–18 year olds, heterosexual youth, and those who have run away less often. The final model explained 43 % of the variance in homeless youths’ HIV risk behaviors with strangers. It is important to identify network characteristics that are harmful to homeless youth because continued exposure to such networks and participation in dangerous behaviors may result in detrimental outcomes, including contraction of sexually transmitted infections and potentially HIV.
KeywordsHIV risk Social networks Risk factors Protective factors Homeless youth Sexual orientation
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