When most people think of the homeless, they think of the mentally ill, drug addicts or war veterans who somehow lost track of their lives and forgot how to get back to the life they once knew.

But there is a large part that makes up a much darker side of the homeless community: Homeless youth.

Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth each year, but common reasons are family dysfunction, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and sexual abuse. Research has shown that 43% of runaway and homeless youth were sexually abused before they left their homes.

These young people often flee abuse at home, but are exposed to further sexual victimization and human trafficking once on the street. One of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. And the average age of entry into prostitution is fourteen.

1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse in the United States. 69% occurred in the victims’ home. 90% were sexually assaulted by someone they knew well. (A step-parent, relative, family friend or caretaker) The actual number is most likely higher because many incidents go unreported. Children’s Advocacy Centers served more than 311,000 children around the country in 2014. Two-thirds of the children served disclosed sexual abuse. (205,438)

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as: sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained  years of age.”

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to develop minimum definitions of abuse or neglect. CAPTA’s definition of sexual abuse includes: “The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Last year, the National Center for the Missing & Exploited Children recorded that of the 11,800 endangered runaways, one in five were likely victims of child sex trafficking.

Girls are likely to become victims between the ages of 12 and 14; boys and transgender youths are likely to become victims between the ages of 11 and 13.

These children often grow up in broken and dysfunctional homes where love and affection are absent.  Instead of protection, many times these children receive brutal treatment. Their self-esteem is beaten to the point of feeling unworthy of any respect or fair treatment. They are insulted, humiliated, threatened, yelled at and isolated. They endure repeated sexual abuse—sometimes from several perpetrators.  All of these factors may lead them to start using drugs as a way to cope.

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 what is often referred to as “survival sex”. (Exchanging sex for money, food, drugs or a place to stay) Most of these children come from horrific living conditions; thus, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of sex slavery. They find themselves vulnerable, desperate, and in need of surviving. They require basic needs like food and shelter; therefore, they give into survival sex.

We need to change our mindset and preconceived ideas about these helpless children  that lead us to make erroneous conclusions. Many of us may have looked the other way and denied ourselves the opportunity to help. It may be that the assumptions made in regards to child sexual abuse and the homeless youth are what is preventing us from aiding and reaching out to them. If we did, perhaps there would not be over one million of our youth living on the streets each year in the United States.

More than the 500,000 attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. on January 21st to stand up for women’s rights—including health care reform, abortion rights, equal pay for women and protesting sexual assault and the rape culture.

According the statistics on sexual child abuse, out of the 500,000 who attended the Women’s March in Washington,100,000 of them either knew a child who was sexually abused, or was the perpetrator of sexually abusing a child themselves. And and yet no one spoke out against that!

Silence is one of the most common failure in preventing child abuse. In 2 Samuel 13, upon learning that his sister Tamar had been raped by her brother Amnon, Absalom stated, “Keep silent my sister, he is your brother, do not take this matter to heart.” (v. 20) Tragically, not much has changed in over three thousand years. Too many respond to the epidemic of child abuse with the same dangerous silence.  A silence that is too often preferred over acknowledging the existence of such evil within our midst. A silence that is too often preferred over the hard work required to develop and implement effective child protection policies. A silence that is too often preferred over the cries of hurting children.

I for one, will not be silent. I will continue to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. Will you join me? Write to your senators, to those who were elected to represent you in congress, and to the president.

Just like those who marched in Washington, we can make it known that we will be silent no more!

https://www.1800runaway.org/runaway-statistics/third-party-statistics/

https://www.nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/IssueBrief_Youth_Homelessness.pdf

https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics

https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/FactsStatistics?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

https://www.state.gov/j/tip/laws/61124.htm

https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/capta2010.pdf

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