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Literature Review: Sex Trafficking Among Homeless Youth

Problem Statement

The primary objective of this research involves an exploration of the complexity, as well as the scope of the challenge of sex trafficking among the youth population, especially youths experiencing the problem of homelessness across the state of Florida, to offer local and national policymakers evidence-based findings for informing suitable strategies for addressing the issue. Homeless youths are especially vulnerable to the problem of sex trafficking across the United States and globally. For instance, Most of the participants in this study were youths aged between 14 and 21 years. Additionally, Loyola University surveyed ten states across the USA and discovered that 68 percent of the interviewed youths, particularly minors, attributed homelessness to either commercial sex trafficking or survival sex activities (Murphy, 2016).

Sex trafficking is a significant social problem impacting minors globally who are easily vulnerable to mental and physical issues, including psychological trauma that may often result in suicidal ideation or even suicide attempts. Sex trafficking is directly associated with engagement in criminal activities such as joining gangs, the use or sale of illicit drugs, forced marriages, and fatal abortions. While some people may be rehabilitated following an experience with sex trafficking to lead better lives, the majority of the youths who have been sexually exploited previously often face significant social challenges, including poverty, stigmatization, and racial exclusion (Lutnick, 2016). Therefore, it is essential to explore the issue of sex trafficking among the youth population aged below 21 years because this population is the most vulnerable group to commercial sexual exploitation, which has debilitative health and physical and social challenges later in life. Additionally, the is no data concerning either the prevalence or complexity of the challenge of sex trafficking among young people in the State of Florida. Therefore, the youth population has been selected primarily because most of the cases associated with sex trafficking are often unreported. The findings from the intended study will aid organizations in upscaling suitable service provision interventions tailored to mitigate the challenge of sex trafficking among at-risk adolescent and youth populations.

Review of Extant Literature

The general research objective of the proposed study involves exploring the complexity and scope of the problem of sex trafficking among at-risk minors, particularly the runaway and homeless youth populations. In this context, it is essential to determine the experiences of this at-risk population concerning the social challenges encountered. Extant research demonstrates that homeless youths who have experienced sex trafficking previously are highly vulnerable to inappropriate social behavior associated with drug abuse. Homeless minors who were sex trafficked were significantly vulnerable to substance use primarily because their maternal parents were also drug abusers. A separate study led by Cecchet and Thoburn (2014) showed that another essential adverse outcome involves mental health challenges, especially depression and anxiety, which often lead to suicidal ideation. Cecchet and Thoburn’s (2014) findings are consistent with a more recent study led by Hogan (2022) that demonstrated that one of the significant adverse impacts of child sex trafficking included debilitated mental health that contributed to heightened levels of depression and suicidal ideation.

Often, adolescents are highly vulnerable to the experience of psychological concerns like PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), depression, and anxiety that significantly contribute to their increased vulnerability to sex traffickers and pimps. These experiences frequently serve as barriers against access to the critical human service providers and institutions responsible for rehabilitating them or even fail to engage in services offered by these organizations because of fear of stigmatization from society. Nonetheless, most of the recent extant literature has focused on the adverse impacts associated with the sex trafficking of minors, while few pieces of research explore the root causes and reasons for homelessness associated with this at-risk population.

Precisely, it is essential to understand the reasons for homelessness among the at-risk population investigated in the study. Specifically, most homeless youths who have experienced sex trafficking have previously reported that they fled from their homes because of sexual violence, child abuse, and instances where parents reject their sexual orientation and identities. Sexual orientation has historically been a significant contributor to the increased prevalence of homelessness and run-way adolescent and young adult populations. Ultimately, because these victims often get afraid of returning home, they have significant challenges associated with their living and survival conditions due to the lack of basic human needs, which renders them vulnerable to sex trafficking. In particular, according to a previous study conducted by Hogan (2022), the odds of an LGBTQ+ homeless teenager reporting sex trafficking and abuse were more than twice higher than the cis-gender heterosexual individuals experiencing homelessness. The findings from this study suggest that sexual orientation and its perception, especially from family members, is directly linked to the increased rates of homelessness among children and young adults, especially those belonging to the LGBTQ+ minority community. These reasons signify the increased rates of commercial sex practices and increased vulnerability to sex trafficking among adolescents and young adults.

While some researchers have attempted to explore the issue of sex trafficking among minors, the methodologies employed are not sufficient enough to offer a comprehensive picture of the phenomenon. An example of this study includes Murphy et al.’s (2015) research that sought to determine the factors contributing to human trafficking and sex labor by interviewing 99 youths between 16- and 22 years attending Covenant House located in New Orleans using the HTIAM-14 survey tool. Even though the findings from the study indicated that 11% of the entire sample reported instances such as survival sex that may be considered as contributing factors for sex trafficking based on the current legal and federal definition, the study has significant limitations associated with potential social desirability bias, especially from the research respondents who felt uncomfortable revealing their experiences.

Gaps in Research

Specifically, accurate data and information concerning the prevalence and statistics of at-risk youths victimized by human trafficking, specifically the sex-trafficked minors, are scarce mainly because of the discrepancies in gathering information and the lack of comprehension of between the two crucial concepts, including sex work or prostitution and sex trafficking. Additionally, the findings from the literature review above indicate that while the issue of sex trafficking has been explored across the international domain, there is limited research that explores the scope and complexity of this problem locally due to a lack of data or evidence-based research essential for informing policy initiatives in determining suitable interventional approaches for combating the issue of sex-trafficking among homeless youths. The literature review above also indicates that existing research has primarily focused on the risk factors and consequences of sex trafficking among the young adult and minor populations. A gap in research exists concerning the scope and complexity of the issue of sex trafficking among homeless minors in the State of Florida, particularly in the context of the differences between sex-trafficked and non-sex-trafficked victims based on their demographics and individual experiences.

Research Questions

The analysis of the extant literature provided above informs the following research questions proposed for this study:

  1. What are the experiences of homeless youths in the state of Florida associated with drug abuse, mental health diagnosis, reasons for homelessness, protective mechanisms, and family relationships?
  2. What are the differences between sex-trafficked and non-sex-trafficked homeless youths in terms of demographics, sexual orientations, traumatic childhood experiences, technology use, and high-risk behaviors?

Implication and Conclusion

This section of the proposal has offered a comprehensive analysis of extant literature that has investigated the issue of sex trafficking among children and young adult populations. The evaluation of this literature indicates that a research gap exists concerning the investigation of the scope and complexity of the issue of sex-trafficking among homeless minors in the State of Florida due to lack of data or evidence-based research essential for informing policy initiatives in determining suitable interventional approaches for combating the issue of sex-trafficking among homeless youths.


Cecchet, S. J., & Thoburn, J. (2014). The psychological experience of child and adolescent sex trafficking in the United States: Trauma and resilience in survivors. Psychological trauma: theory, research, practice, and policy6(5), 482.

Hogan, K. A. (2022). Exploring Sex Trafficking Risk Factors for LGBTQ+ Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness (Doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University). Retrieved from:

Lutnick, A. (2016). Domestic minor sex trafficking: Beyond victims and villains. Columbia University Press.

Murphy, L. T. (2016). Labor and sex trafficking among homeless youth. New Orleans: Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project. Retrieved from:

Murphy, L. T., Taylor, R., & Bolden, C. L. (2015). Trafficking and exploitative labor among homeless youth in New Orleans. Covenant House. Retrieved from:


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