"Don't judge us. We're human. We have feelings. We are not perfect. We may have attitudes and all that, but as a professional, you should be able to understand that and see, well, this person may not be heard."
These are the words of a 19-year-old bisexual Puerto Rican woman who participated in a recent study by the Urban Institute called "Locked In: Interactions With the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems for LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Who Engage in Survival Sex."
70 percent of the nearly 300 LGBT juveniles interviewed in the study reported being arrested while participating in the commercial sex market. The study also found rampant physical and verbal abuse from law enforcement officials.
Because of the abuse and lack of support, homeless LGBT teens often engage in "survival sex," or sex used as a means to survive extreme situations.
The study provides detailed recommendations on improving law enforcement and helping homeless LGBT children.
Here are seven solutions from the study that should be implemented to help these kids:
1. Amend federal and state safe harbor legislation.
The new amendment for safe harbor laws should include a ban on arrests and court proceedings for juveniles on all prostitution-related charges. There are currently no safe harbor protections for juveniles engaged in "sex survival."
2. Increase appropriations for voluntary and low-threshold services.
States should expand these programs to juveniles engaged in "sex survival." Examples include programs that provide food, housing, health care, showers and living wage employment options.
3. New law enforcement policies and training.
The study made several law enforcement recommendations including ending abuse against homeless juveniles, stopping public strip searches, ceasing the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses and adding more oversight from the Department of Justice.
4. Discourage detention of youth engaged in "survival sex."
Arrested juveniles are at risk to face assault in prison from peers and from the staff. It is also the first step in the endless prison cycle.
5. Improve foster care options.
The Urban Institute study included complaints of cruel and abusive care at foster homes. The foster system needs to improve quality of care and add more periodic reviews.
6. Follow Seattle’s pilot program.
A great example of pilot program to help homeless LGBT juveniles is Seattle's new program called LEAD (law enforcement-assisted diversion). This program allows low-level prostitution offenders to engage in community-based services instead of jail time.
7. Listen to the kids.
The conclusion of the study from the Urban Institute features recommendations by the juveniles who were interviewed in the survey. They suggested improvements such as better screening of law enforcement, requiring LGBTQ sensitivity training and improving police response time.
Cover image via iStock