Street youth more likely to trade sex for food, shelter if they were abused as children, study finds

New research led by Ryerson scientists have found that street youth who have been sexually abused as children are far more likely to engage in trading sex for food, shelter and other basic necessities.

"Youth who live on the street are living under very difficult circumstances and their home life may not have been the most loving or supportive," says Professor Trevor Hart, director of Ryerson University's Lab and co-author of the study, which is still underway. "As a result, these youth are dealing with a great deal of stress in their daily lives."

Danielle Schwartz, a Ryerson psychology graduate student, led the investigation from 2008 to 2010. Her co-authors are Carolyn James, who was a graduate student at York University, and Hart, who was their academic supervisor on the study. They were interested in examining the link between and sex trading as a way for these youth to cope with high and stress in their lives.

The researchers surveyed 208 who were living in street shelters in Toronto, asking them about their experience with childhood sexual abuse, strategies they used to manage their emotions (self-harm, using sex to reduce ), and whether they traded sex for money or gifts, including food, shelter, clothes and drugs.

Among their preliminary findings, the researchers found 42 per cent of the youth reported they were sexually abused as children. Within this group, nearly 26 per cent said they engaged in sex trading, compared to almost six per cent who did not experience childhood sexual abuse.

"This finding shows there is a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and , which is consistent with other studies," says Schwartz, lead author of the study. "Part of the reason for this may be youth are having difficulties in managing their emotions and stress so they are turning to sex trading. This may help meet their basic needs in the short term, but does not promote a positive sense of well-being in the long term."

Hart says health-care providers and social agency workers who provide care for street youth should be aware of this link between childhood sexual abuse and trading sex for basic needs.

"Counsellors may want to ask those difficult questions about a street youth's sexual past," says Hart. "It can help them determine how they can help that young adult better cope with the stress in their lives other than relying on sex trading."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sexually abused boys at risk for more unsafe sex: research

Apr 04, 2012

Young males who have been sexually abused are five times more likely to cause teen pregnancy compared to those with no abuse history, according to University of British Columbia research. Sexually abused boys are also three ...

Study tracks sexual behavior of newly homeless youth

Jan 07, 2008

Newly homeless youth are likelier to engage in risky sexual behavior if they stay in nonfamily settings — such as friends' homes, abandoned buildings or the streets — because they lack supervision and social support, ...

Recommended for you

Preterm children's brains can catch up years later

37 minutes ago

There's some good news for parents of preterm babies – latest research from the University of Adelaide shows that by the time they become teenagers, the brains of many preterm children can perform almost as well as those ...

Mortality rates increase due to extreme heat and cold

57 minutes ago

Epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown that death rates rise in association with extremely hot weather. The heat wave in Western Europe in the summer of 2003, for example, resulted in about 22,000 extra deaths. A team ...

It takes more than practice to excel, psychologist reports

1 hour ago

Case Western Reserve University's new assistant professor of psychology Brooke N. Macnamara, PhD, and colleagues have overturned a 20-year-old theory that people who excel in their fields are those who practiced the most.

User comments