Five Things Sexually Exploited Youth Need to Thrive

WestCoast Children’s Clinic provides specialized services to sexually exploited youth, and conducts research and advocacy to improve protection and support for child trafficking victims.

The following was written by Breanne, who was formerly sexually exploited. She recently completed an internship at WestCoast.

Sexual exploitation is when children are sold for sex. It is estimated that 100 girls are exploited in Oakland every night. Many exploited youth come from abusive homes or live in poverty.

A growing number of people are working to help girls heal from their exploitation and lead the lives they choose. Sexually exploited youth have an opportunity to have a future and be a part of their community. Here are five ways you can help these young adults thrive:

1. Job Training

It’s important for sexually exploited youth to have access to job training once they are off the streets. When youth want to get out of sexual exploitation they need something to keep them focused and motivated. Youth tend to be in survival mode and have a hard time believing in themselves, but I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to meet their full potential. Youth need some help realizing that they are capable of doing so. Imagine the impact a job-training program that also teaches a range of skills — like saving, budgeting, personal development, and school preparation — would have on a young person restarting their life.

Job training will give youth the confidence and skills they need to get a job. Having a job will give the youth a feeling of being more than who they were on the streets. A job will help youth earn money, and reduce the temptation of going back out to the street to make ends meet.

2. A Mentor

Youth can benefit from having a mentor who supports and advocates for them. A mentor can be like a big sister/brother who guides and helps the youth grow into their new life. She or he can help keep the youth busy with activities, sports, school, and employment. Working one-on-one with a single mentor is more effective than working with multiple programs, where youth must revisit their pain by telling their story again each time.

Youth are more open to receiving feedback and advice when it’s genuine and coming from one person. Youth should be able to choose a mentor that is the best fit for them. Mentors should be trained on what they can expect when working with exploited youth so they can support the youth’s emotional needs.

3. Criminal Record Expungement

Sexually exploited youth are frequently arrested and treated as criminals rather than victims. Criminalizing youth who have had their childhoods ripped from them recreates the violation of exploitation. It’s important that youth get an opportunity to have a fresh start as soon as possible when they are trying to move on from exploitation.

Having their backgrounds expunged will give youth a sense of normalcy in life. Being free of their criminal records will encourage youth to be positive and move forward in life. Youth should not be labeled as criminals and they should not feel ashamed and guilty for something that they were manipulated into doing. Expunging youths’ records would help decrease a lot of feelings youth experience when they are trying to move forward in a positive way. I hope one day that youth no longer get arrested and charged for crimes they are forced to commit when they are exploited.

4. Housing

Youth transitioning out of exploitation need housing to have stability, safety, and privacy. Youth need to get away from their exploiters and any negative people so they can recognize those who are really trying to help them. Youth also need to catch up on their sleep and regain their physical health to become stable.

Being stable will allow youth to start working on school, employment, legal matters, and self-care. A transitional home where youth can work on themselves should be family oriented, understanding of the youth’s needs, and staffed by counselors who are trained to work with exploited youth.

5. Educational Support

Many exploited youth drop out of school and need support getting back on track. They need encouragement to explore their goals around college and careers. The youth’s mentor is one person who can help get them back into school, locate a campus that is best for them so they are not afraid of being found by their exploiter, find a tutor, and catch up to their grade level.

It’s important to let the youth figure out which is the best route to go and not rush the youth into getting a GED. Youth need the opportunity to take their time to get back into the school lifestyle and shift out of survival mode.

As I moved forward with my life after exploitation I benefited from a three-year job training program (the Youth Advocate Program) and housing support (THP-Plus). I also had help with my education and expunging my record.

All of these things helped me feel comfortable in my skin and figure out where I want to head. One thing that would have helped me more is a single mentor. This would have relieved a lot of stress because I would not have had to retell my story to multiple people. I’m now living a life that I am happy with but there are many other youth who can benefit from the types of support I had.

You can help by supporting an organization that serves sexually exploited youth or advocating for policy changes that will make more services available. Some organizations in the Bay Area that are working to help exploited youth are: WestCoast Children’s Clinic, Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY) and SAGE Project.

WestCoast Children’s Clinic has a summary of current child sex trafficking policy proposals in the California legislature and United States Congress that you can support to improve services for sexually exploited youth.

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WestCoast Children’s Clinic is committed to providing psychological services to vulnerable children, youth, and their families regardless of their ability to pay and to expanding the reach of psychological services through practice and research.