The Domestic Labor and Sex Trafficking of Homeless Youth

Phone, Prostitute, Spaceman“Children and youth victimized in human trafficking are not social outcasts or criminals. Rather, they are our neighbors and friends, our nieces and nephews, and our children and grandchildren who have been or who are currently being mentally, physically, and sexually abused. And they don’t need us standing around clicking our ruby red slippers or dreaming of Oz” ~ Karen Countryman-Roswurm.

The only thing that gets me more upset about the domestic labor and sex trafficking of homeless youth in America, is the fact that most people don’t even care that homeless boys and girls in this country are being bought and then forced to do horrible things. As many of you know, I have been working with homeless people in some form for the last 19 years, but it wasn’t until my trip in 2010 that I learned about labor trafficking and how rampant domestic sex trafficking is.

To me, this is a crisis and should be front page news, but I bet for most of you, this is the first time you’ve even heard about the trafficking of homeless youth. Most of the attention and the resources go to fight international trafficking, and all human trafficking is horrible, but domestic trafficking is our kids. OUR KIDS!

What happens to trafficked children in the U.S. when they are discovered by the police? Often they are arrested on prostitution charges, thrown into jail and treated like criminals, even though they are minors. But not in Kansas anymore thanks to Karen Countryman-Roswurm, who is near the top on my hero list.

Dr Karen Countryman-Roswurm worked hard to get the words “prostitution” removed from state laws. This change made it now possible for trafficking victims to get the proper help they need. Other states have also made changes to help minors who have been caught up in trafficking, but it should be every state!

I first interviewed Karen Countryman-Roswurm in 2010 and you can watch that interview here. I have mad respect for Karen and consider her a close friend, although we rarely find time to connect.  Karen was also a homeless youth, beating impossible odds, and now has a Ph.D. and is the director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University. Karen likes to call those of us that came up from the streets “survivor/leaders” I like that!

Every time I talk to Karen I learn so much, and this video interview with her is filled with information that you need to hear. I really like how Karen shares about the fight against human trafficking starts at home. Words every parent needs to hear!


This Invisible People road trip is made possible by  Sevenly and Virgin Mobile USA, who are partnering to end youth homelessness through Virgin Mobile USA’s initiative, RE*Generation. For more information please click here.

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  • Bob Boyd

    There are some great people out there

  • Jane

    Yes its 3rd world trash doing that though not our local north american people. Actually saudi arabia is a huge centre for sex trafficking around the world…..

  • a) let’s not call people trash, even if their activities are trash.

    b) the US domestic trafficking problem is largely fueled by US citizens. for example, gang members are turning to trafficking youth b/c of the crackdowns on on drugs & guns. plus, humans are ‘reusable goods’, whereas other merchandise can only be sold once. another source of trafficking is the ‘mag crews’ cropping up all over – they recruit homeless youth, in particular, promising them lavish lives of fun & freedom. these crews sweep the youth somewhere across the country to conduct door-to-door sales of magazines, then systematically chip away at youth’s earnings so that the young people end up in the hole, rather than living sufficient lives. i’ve personally had to help a young person from getting caught up in a mag crew. also, mark has a story on a couple who fell prey to one of those crews here:

    trying to shift the blame to ‘the other’ doesn’t help us solve the
    problem – that’s called derailing. it’s hard to acknowledge our own problems but burying our heads in the sand doesn’t help. the real work is sometimes painful but nowhere near as painful as letting the problems continue.

    c) this is an unpopular opinion, but many unstably-housed young people turn to sex work on their own accord. i know technically (legally) we say someone under age 18 can’t make that decision on their own. i expanded my view after working with a group of homeless youth involved in the sex trade. at this stage in their lives, they are doing what they feel they need to do to survive. most do not glorify their work but these young men & women are aware of what they are doing and seek understanding, not patronizing or criminalization.

  • and another video mark has on trafficking & the choices people have to make to survive:

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