LGBTQ Youth and Vulnerability to Sex Trafficking



This chapter uses a socioecological framework to explain that self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender experienced or questioning (LGBTQ) children experience a higher rate of vulnerability to sex trafficking. This vulnerability stems, in part from, family rejection, abandonment, or emotional and physical abuse arising from homophobic or transphobic reactions of guardians. Systemic discrimination, in the education, mental health and health care, and justice systems, exacerbates risk. If these vulnerabilities are left unaddressed, rates of LGBTQ children experiencing sex trafficking will worsen as the overall problem of child trafficking grows.


LGBTQ Trafficking Adolescent Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Gender nonconforming Questioning Queer Homophobia Transphobia Heteronormative 


  1. 1.
    Martinez O, Kelle G. Sex trafficking of LGBT individuals: a call for service provision, research, and action. Int Law News. 2013;42(4).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Clayton EW, Krugman RD, Simon P, editors. Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2013.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mereish EH, O’cleirigh C, Bradford JB. Interrelationships between LGBT-based victimization, suicide, and substance use problems in a diverse sample of sexual and gender minorities. Psychol Health Med. 2014;19(1):1–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    US Congress. Trafficking Victims Protection Act. HR 3244. 2000.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Flowers RB. Street kids: the lives of runaway and thrownaway teens. Jefferson, NC: McFarland; 2010. p. 110–2. ISBN 0-7864-4137-2.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Editorial staff at the Lancet. Ending LGBT conversion therapy. Lancet. 2015;385, p. 1478.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Durso LE, Gates GJ. Serving our youth: findings from a National Survey of Service Providers working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund; 2012. p. 4.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hughes D. The demand for victims of sex trafficking. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State; 2005. p. 20.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network. The 2011 National School Climate Survey. Published 2011. Accessed 10 Mar 2016.
  10. 10.
    Dank M. Surviving the streets of New York: experiences of LGBTQ youth, YMSM, and YWSW engaged in survival sex. 2015.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Rutherford K, McIntyre J, Daley A, Ross LE. Development of expertise in mental health service provision for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Med Educ. 2012;46:903–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Mallory C, Hasenbush A, Sears B. Discrimination and harassment by law enforcement officers in the LGBT community. The Williams Institute, University of California at Los Angeles Law School. Published March 2015. Retrieved on 27 Apr 2016.
  13. 13.
    Madhi I, et al. Survey of New Mexico school health professionals regarding preparedness to support sexual minority students. J Sch Health. 2014;84(1):18–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Himmelstein K, Bruckner H. Criminal justice and school sanctions against nonheterosexual youth: a national longitudinal study. Pediatrics. 2011;127:49, 50, 53.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Haldeman D. Therapeutic antidotes: helping gay and bisexual men recover from conversion therapies. J Gay Lesbian Psychother. 2002;5(3–4):117–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kruk E. Spiritual wounding and affliction: facilitating spiritual transformation in social justice work. Crit Soc Work. 2006;7(1).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Haldeman DC. Gay rights, patient rights: the implications of sexual orientation conversion therapy. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2002;33(3):260–4. doi: 10.1037/0735-7028.33.3.260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rosik CH. Motivational, ethical, and epistemological foundations in the treatment of unwanted homoerotic attraction. J Marital Fam Ther. 2003;29(1):13–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Adelson SL, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Committee on Quality Issues (CQI). Practice parameter on gay, lesbian, or bisexual sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, and gender discordance in children and adolescents. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012;51(9):957–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    McGeorge CR, Carlson TS. An exploration of family therapists’ beliefs about the ethics of conversion therapy: the influence of negative beliefs and clinical competence with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. J Marital Fam Ther. 2015;41(1):42–56. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12040.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
  22. 22.
    SAMHSA. A provider’s introduction to substance abuse treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA; 2012. p. xv–xvi.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Nemeroff CB. Paradise lost: the neurobiological and clinical consequences of child abuse and neglect. Neuron. 2016;89(5):892–909.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Alvy LM, Hughes TL, Kristjanson AF, Wilsnack SC. Sexual identity group differences in child abuse and neglect. J Interpers Violence. 2013;28(10):2088–111.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Herzberger SD, Potts DA, Dillon M. Abusive and nonabusive parental treatment from the child’s perspective. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1981;49(1):81–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hecker T, Radtke KM, Hermenau K, Papassotiropoulos A, Elbert T. Associations among child abuse, mental health, and epigenetic modifications in the proopiomelanocortin gene (POMC): a study with children in Tanzania. Dev Psychopathol. 2016;28(4)1–12.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Waters E, Corcoran D, Anafarta M. Attachment, other relationships, and the theory that all good things go together. Hum Dev. 2005;48:80–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Norman RE, Byambaa M, De R, Butchart A, Scott J, Vos T. The long-term health consequences of child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2012;9(11), e1001349.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Landa S, Duschinsky R. Crittenden’s dynamic–maturational model of attachment and adaptation. Rev Gen Psychol. 2013;17(3):326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Textbook International Association for Children and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied ProfessionsGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Freyd J, DePrince A, Zurbriggen E. Self-reported memory for abuse depends upon victim-perpetrator relationship. J Trauma Dissociation. 2011;2(3):5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Freyd J. Betrayal trauma: the logic of forgetting childhood abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1998.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hocking E, Simons R, Surette R. Attachment style as a mediator between childhood maltreatment and the experience of betrayal trauma as an adult. Child Abuse Negl. 2016;52:94–101.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 2016. Accessed 16 Mar 2016.
  35. 35.
    Stein JA, Leslie MB, Nyamathi A. Relative contributions of parent substance use and childhood maltreatment to chronic homelessness, depression, and substance abuse problems among homeless women: mediating roles of self-esteem and abuse in adulthood. Child Abuse Negl. 2002;26(10):1011–27.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Swanston HY, Plunkett AM, O’Toole BI, Shrimpton S, Parkinson PN, Oates RK. Nine years after child sexual abuse. Child Abuse Negl. 2003;27(8):967–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Steel JL, Herlitz CA. The association between childhood and adolescent sexual abuse and proxies for sexual risk behavior: a random sample of the general population of Sweden. Child Abuse Negl. 2005;29(10):1141–53.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Shields JP, et al. Impact of victimization on risk of suicide among lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students in San Francisco. J Adolesc Health. 2011;50(4):418–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Cochran BN, Stewart AJ, Ginzler JA, Cauce AM. Challenges faced by homeless sexual minorities: comparison of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender homeless adolescents with their heterosexual counterparts. Am J Public Health. 2002;92(5):773–7.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Rew L, Whittaker T, Tylor-Seehafer M, Smith L. Sexual health risks and protective resources in gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual homeless youth. J Spec Pediatr Nurs. 2005;10(1):11–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Whitbeck LB, Chen XJ, Hoyt DR, Tyler KA, Johnson KD. Mental disorder, subsistence strategies, and victimization among gay, lesbian, and bisexual homeless and runaway adolescents. J Sex Res. 2004;41(4):329–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Bean LJ. LGBTQ youth at high risk of becoming human trafficking victims. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Published 2013. Accessed 20 Mar 2016.
  43. 43.
    Yates GL, MacKenzie RG, Pennbridge J, Swofford A. A risk profile comparison of homeless youth involved in prostitution and homeless youth not involved. J Adolesc Health. 1991;12(7):545–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Blake SM, Ledsky R, Lehman T, Goodenow C, Sawyer R, Hack T. Preventing sexual risk behaviors among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents: the benefits of gay-sensitive HIV instruction in schools. Am J Public Health. 2001;91:940–6.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Sue DW. Microaggressions: more than just race. Can microaggressions be directed to women or gay people? 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2016 from: Accessed 1 Aug 2016.
  46. 46.
    Chettiar J, Shannon K, Wood E, Zhang R, Kerr T. Survival sex work involvement among street-involved youth who use drugs in a Canadian setting. J Public Health. 2010;32(3):322–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Edwards JM, Iritani BJ, Hallfors DD. Prevalence and correlates of exchanging sex for drugs or money among adolescents in the United States. Sex Transm Infect. 2006;82(5):354–8.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Estes RJ, Weiner NA. The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Philadelphia, PA: Center for the Study of Youth Policy; 2001.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Greene JM, Ennett ST, Ringwalt CL. Prevalence and correlates of survival sex among runaway and homeless youth. Am J Public Health. 1999;89(9):1406–9.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Cusick L, Hickman M. “Trapping” in drug use and sex work careers. Drugs. 2005;12(5):369–79.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Stoltz J-AM, Shannon K, Kerr T, Zhang R, Montaner JS, Wood E. Associations between childhood maltreatment and sex work in a cohort of drug-using youth. Soc Sci Med. 2007;65(6):1214–21.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Open Access This chapter is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 International License (, which permits any noncommercial use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and indicate if changes were made.

The images or other third party material in this chapter are included in the chapter's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the chapter's Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pacific Alliance to Stop SlaveryHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryJohn A. Burns School of Medicine, University of HawaiiHonoluluUSA
  3. 3.Icahn School of Medicine at Beth Israel Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations