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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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  • Survivors of CSEC who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex (LGBTQ+) experience similar trauma as heterosexual male and female survivors. However, it is important to be aware of and acknowledge not the additional challenges they face. It is also critical to understand the wide spectrum of people who are represented under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Each survivor will have their own unique experiences, which are also significantly impacted by intersections of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors. Multidisciplinary professionals must refrain from making assumptions about the experiences and identities of the LGBTQ+ youth they serve. The discrimination that LGBTQ+ youth face from parents, family, friends, classmates, and society as a whole puts them at increased risk for sexual exploitation (Dank et al., 2015; Martinez & Kelle, 2013).
  • An LGBTQ+ youth may be thrown out or run away from home because their family is not supportive of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Once on the street, youth are forced to trade sexual acts to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety (Dank et al., 2015; Friedman, 2013; Martinez & Kelle, 2013).
    • Runaway and homeless LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be physically and/or sexually victimized, attempt suicide, use illegal substances, and to struggle with mental health issues (Burwick, Oddo, Durso, Friend, & Gates, 2014; Cochran, Stewart, Ginzler, & Cauce, 2002; Tyler, 2008; VanLeeuween et al, 2006).
    • A 2015 Urban Institute study found that LGBTQ+ homeless youth were 7 times more likely than other homeless youth to resort to survival sex to meet their basic needs (Dank, Yahner, Madden, Bañuelos, Yu, Ritchie, Mora & Conner, 2015).
    • The exact number of homeless LGBTQ+ youth is unknown. A survey of service providers found that about 40% of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBTQ+ (Durso & Gates, 2012). The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimate that between 20% and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Similar to male victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSECLGBTQ+ victims are an overlooked and underserved population (Friedman, 2013; Martinez & Kelle, 2013).
  • Services specific to LGBTQ+ victims of commercial sexual exploitation are scarce, and youth often report harassment and an overall lack of acceptance from peers and staff in traditional services. Youth may be hesitant to seek out services at homeless shelters or drop-in centers for fear of discrimination or abuse based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression (Dank et al., 2015).

Mentoring Relationships with LGBTQ+ CSEC Survivors

  • A strong relationship with a supportive mentor can help youth acknowledge and feel more comfortable with their sexual orientation and gender identity (Mulcahy, Dalton, Kolbert, & Crothers, 2016).
  • Findings show that LGBTQ+ youth find mentors later in life compared to their heterosexual peers. This gap means LGBTQ+ youth are missing guidance in the critical years of their personal and emotional development ( Johnson & Gastic, 2015).
  • There is a mentoring gap for LGBTQ+ youth. Approximately 3.2 million youth identify as LGBTQ+I in the United States, and of those, 1.3 million do not have access to a formal mentor (Mallory, Sears, et. al., 2014).

So What?

  • Programs and organizations will serve individuals with diverse and varied backgrounds, including youth who identify as LGBTQ+.As a provider, it is not about having all of the answers or knowing every single detail, but cultivating an environment in which the services provided are safe, open, and accessible to all youth, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Family acceptance predicts greater self‐esteem, social support, and general health status; it also protects against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviors in LGBTQ+ youth (Needham, B.L. & Austin, E.L. 2010; Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2010). Programs should develop strategies to engage safe family members in order to strengthen support systems for LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is a risk factor for LGBTQ+ youth. Providers should be aware of this and seek to support LGBTQ+ youth around discrimination issues (Perry et al., 2014).
  • LGBTQ+ youth often have limited resources. Service provision should focus on meeting each victim’s basic needs in a manner that acknowledges the harassment, abuse, rejection and discrimination one may experience living as an LGBTQ+ individual (Perry et al., 2014).
  • Mental health and trauma concerns can occur around a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. When addressing these needs of LGBTQ+ youth, it is crucial to identify and address mental health needs as soon as possible.
  • A program’s culture, attitude, intake process, and service delivery methods affect whether or not a youth will seek help or remain engaged in services. Service providers should work to create safe and affirming spaces in order to serve LGBTQ+ victims of trafficking.


  • Identity development is crucial during adolescence. Many LGBTQ+ youth are navigating this alone and without positive adult support (Johnson & Gastic, 2015).
  • There is a large number of LGBTQ+ youth who do not have formal mentors and an established support system, which can put them at risk (Mallory, Sears, et. al., 2014).
  • Positive relationships that instill acceptance of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and raise self-esteem can lower a youth’s risk of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking (Mulcahy, Dalton, Kolbert, & Crothers, 2016).

Now What?

General Practice Implications for the Individual

  • While research is sparse in terms of program models specifically designed for LGBTQ+ victims of CSEC, other service agencies, such as the child welfare system, have developed programming guidelines for youth facing challenges related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression (Barberet, 2014; Child Welfare League of America, 2012; Perry et al., 2014; Rosenwald, 2009).

    Such guidelines include:
    • Ensure that LGBTQ+ youth understand that they are supported and accepted in their expression of self and that harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated (Burwick et al, 2014; Child Welfare League of America, 2012; Perry et al., 2014).
    • Be intentional about checking in with LGBTQ+ youth and swift in responding to situations where harassment is occurring. Harassment might include verbal abuse, cyber bulling, physical altercations, physical abuse, sexual abuse, destroying of personal property, and ostracizing the youth because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (Perry et al., 2014).
    • Ensure that LBGTQI youth feel safe in their residential, familial, education, and social environments (Burwick et al., 2014; Perry et al. 2014).
    • Respect the privacy of LGBTQ+ youth (Burwick et al., 2014; Perry et al., 2014). Under no circumstances should a youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression be assumed or shared. Additionally, it is important to implement an assessment process that empowers youth to authentically express their identity (Burwick et al., 2014).
    • Refer LGBTQ+ youth to a health care provider who can address their particular risk factors and needs (Burwick, 2014; Perry et al., 2014).
    • Connect youth with community programs and resources for LGBTQ+ individuals (Burwick et al., 2014; Child Welfare League of America, 2012; Perry et al., 2014). This will assist LGBTQ+ youth with developing a strong support system outside of their network of care.

General Practice Implications for Service Providers

  • Provide training for staff about LGBTQ+ victims/survivors strengths, risk factors, and service needs.
  • Hire staff and recruit mentors who identify as LGBTQ+, who can serve as positive role models for LGBTQ+ youth and may relate to their life experiences. Critically evaluate the policies and procedures of your organization, as well as intake forms, organizational language, and physical space. Ensure that you are creating an LGBTQ+ friendly environment.
  • Ask for youth feedback on how the program can be more inclusive for LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Provide or partner with organizations and groups that provide LGBTQ+ specific healthcare, legal services, and other resources.This is especially critical when serving youth undergoing or wishing to begin hormone treatment, and those seeking assistance with name and/or legal document changes.

General Practice Implications for Communities

  • Advocate for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to be included in all nondiscrimination laws and policies.
  • Promote community resources and services available to LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Take action if you see someone being harassed, bullied, or discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Mentoring Practice Implications for Individuals

  • Mentors must be accepting and non-assuming (Mulcahy et al., 2016). Mentors may or may not know how their mentee identifies prior to being matched. Although adolescence is an important time in identity exploration and development for all youth, LGBTQ+ youth may feel pressured to hide this aspect of their identity to avoid rejection, discrimination, or abuse.
  • Mentors must be self-aware if/when a mentee chooses to disclose more about their gender identity or sexual orientation. The mentee will evaluate how the mentor responds as a way to gauge trustworthiness.
    • After a LGBTQ+ youth discloses how they identify, it is not necessary to constantly discuss. Their sexual orientation and/or gender identity is not the only thing that defines them (Mulcahy et al., 2016). Be open and supportive, but let the youth take the lead in how often and to what extent you discuss their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Mentoring Practice Implications for Service Providers

  • During the mentor screening process, discuss the organization’s service delivery for LGBTQ+ youth to ensure mentors are in alignment with this approach.
  • Training for mentors and multidisciplinary professionals on LGBTQ+ issues is important. Trainings should be a space to learn more about a LGBTQ+ youth’s experiences and honestly discuss any bias that individuals might hold (Polaris, 2016).
  • Training for mentors should also include information about how to respond to a youth when they disclose personal information, as well as issues of confidentiality.

Mentoring Practice Implications for Communities

  • Connect with community and healthcare resources that are LGBTQ+ friendly to provide mentors and mentees with low barrier referrals to services.
  • Consider becoming a mentor if you identify as LGBTQ+, or if you are committed to supporting LGBTQ+ youth.



  • Burwick, A., Oddo, V., Durso, L., Friend, D., & Gates, G. (2014). Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees. Retrieved from
  • Child Welfare League of America. (2012) Recommended practices to promote the safety and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ) and youth at risk of living with HIV in child welfare settings. Retrieved from…
  • Cochran, B. N., Stewart, A. J., Ginzler, J. A., & Cauce, A. M. (2002). Challenges faced by homeless sexual minorities: Comparison of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender homeless adolescents with their heterosexual counterparts. American Journal of Public Health, 92(5). 773-777.
  • Dank, M et al. (2015). Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex. Retrieved from…
  • Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). 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.
  • Friedman, S. A. (2013). And Boys Too: An ECPAT-USA discussion paper about the lack of recognition of commercial sexual exploitation and boys in the United States. Retrieved from
  • Johnson, D., & Gastic, B. (2015). Natural mentoring in the lives of sexual minority youth. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(4), 395-407.
  • Mallory, C., Sears, B., Hasenbush, A., & Susman, A. (2014). LGBTQ youth face unique barriers to accessing youth mentoring programs. Retrieved from…
  • Martinez, O., & Kelle, G. (2013). Sex trafficking of LGBT individuals: A call for service provision, research, and action. International Law News, 42(4). 21-24.
  • Mulcahy, M., Dalton, S., Kolbert, J., & Crothers, L. (2016). Informal mentoring for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The Journal of Educational Research, 109(4), 205 – 412. doi: 10.1080/00220671.2014.979907
  • Needham, B.L. & Austin, E.L. (2010). Sexual Orientation, Parental Support, and Health During the Transition to Young Adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 39(10), 1189-1198. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9533-6
  • Perry, J.R., & Green, E.R. (2014) Safe and respected: Policy, best practice, & guidance for serving transgender & gender non-conforming children and youth involved in child welfare, detention, and juvenile justice systems. Retrieved from…
  • Quintana, N., Rosenthal, J., & Krehely, J. (2010). On the streets: The federal response to gay and transgender homeless youth. Washington DC: Center for American Progress.
  • Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
  • Ryan, C., Russell, S., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT. Young Adults Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23(4). 205-213.

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