A new Georgia State University study says more than half of the homeless youth in Atlanta have experienced some form of human trafficking.
The study, led by Professor Eric Wright, found that marginalized groups like LGBTQ youth, as well as children who come from troubled backgrounds, are even more likely to experience exploitation.
“It's not just LGBTQ youth,” says Wright, “although as the research suggests, that they're much more likely to be victimized or trafficked in different ways.”
The study also challenged the idea that the problem was limited to just sex trafficking, showing many homeless youth are also being forced into unpaid labor or simply being held in situations against their will.
The idea of sex trafficking is grotesque to many people, which makes policy makers and community leaders pay attention, Wright said. Other kinds of human trafficking don't get the same headlines.
“(Situations like this occur) when people take in those who are underprivileged and take control of their identification — whether that be a passport or driver's license — as some sort of way to make sure that they stick around or don't do something that they don't like,” Wright said.
The study also attempted to cast a broader net on the scope of youth homelessness, finding that many homeless youth who live in long-stay motels or couchsurf had flown under the radar of previous surveys that had been conducted.
Wright said this study encouraged him and his students to take a broader look at the circumstances of Atlanta’s homeless.
“Personally, I'm really very interested in some of the very complicated and convoluted stories about how young people ended up in commercial sex worker or in sex trafficking situations,” Wright said.
He also hopes that the study will encourage city officials to spend more time pursuing better solutions to address youth homelessness.
“If we really want to get our hands around this, we really need to infuse a lot more resources and expand more housing opportunities and wraparound services for young people. This data are really pretty clear that we need to do early intervention.”