Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Study details lives of LGBT youths engaged in 'survival sex'

Published:Thursday | February 26, 2015 | 12:00 AM
This November 2014 photo shows an area near the intersection of Christopher Street and West Street in New York. A unique federally funded study released on yesterday, offers a detailed look at the lives of gay, lesbian and transgender youth in New York City who cope with homelessness and poverty.


A unique, federally funded study offers a detailed look at the lives of gay, lesbian and transgender (LGBT) youth in New York City who cope with homelessness and poverty by engaging in what the researchers call "survival sex".

In extensive interviews conducted over three years by the Urban Institute, 283 young people spoke about experiencing family rejection, establishing support networks with groups of their peers, and learning how to subsist on earnings from sexual encounters. Many said there were positive aspects to their lives, but a large majority expressed a yearning to get out of the sex business.

"They don't see themselves as victims ... but it's not empowering for them to be doing this," said Meredith Dank, the report's lead author. "These are kids in very desperate situations who will do what they need to do to be able to survive."

The study, funded by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, focused on youth between 15 and 21, although a handful of participants were older.

sample group

Of the respondents, 47 per cent identified as male, 36 per cent as female, and 16 per cent as transgender. About 90 per cent were black, Latino or multiracial, and nearly 60 per cent said they lived either in a shelter or on the street, often after being kicked out of their homes or ageing out of foster care.

On average, the youths saw three to six customers each day or night, and 11 to 18 a week, during periods when they were engaging in sexual transactions, according to the study. The prices that they reported charging per encounter ranged from about $90 to $230, and income per day generally ranged from about $355 to $735.

About 90 per cent of the youths spoke of things they disliked about engaging in the sex trade, saying their work made them feel frustrated, dirty or endangered. Only seven per cent of respondents said they had no desire to stop engaging in the activity.

However, more than 80 per cent said there were positive aspects, notably helping meet their basic needs and, in some cases, fostering a sense of community.