LGBTQI+ and Human Trafficking

No matter your race, gender, sexuality or economic status, anyone can become a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery. However, one of the most common threads that all victims of trafficking share is increased vulnerability. The International Labour Organization estimates that at any given time, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, and 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children. 

Within the United States, anti-trafficking organisations report that the numbers of children affected by human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking are even higher and more ‘staggering for the LGBTQI+ community’. They believe this is because of discrimination, bullying, parental rejection, familial physical, sexual and emotional abuse and familial violence. 

LGBTQI+ Homelessness and Trafficking Risks (United States) 

The Polaris Project, a human trafficking organisation in the United States reports 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQI+. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 58.7% of LGBTQI+ homeless youth have been sexually victimised compared to 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth. And the Polaris Project’s report explains that LGBTQI+ are often hesitant to seek local authorities or access human trafficking shelters due the societal stigmas of commercial sex and the control and coercion that traffickers hold over them. The report reveals that LGTBQI+ youth may fear the repercussions of reporting their situation, particularly if they worry others will mistreat or not believe them because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. 

LGBTQI+ homelessness and trafficking risks (United Kingdom) 

In the UK, the Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that supports young LGBTQI+ people, or those living in hostile environments, reported that young LGBTQI+ people comprise up to 24% of the youth homeless population. They also estimate that 150,000 young LGBTQI+ people were homeless or at risk of homelessness as a result of homophobia and transphobia. The study found that the top five issues that affected LGBTQI+ young people were:

  1. Family rejection 
  2. Mental health issues 
  3. Alcohol abuse 
  4. Homophobic bullying 
  5. Sexual exploitation 

Last year, STOP THE TRAFFIK published a report conducted in partnership with Programme Challenger and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The research uncovered the alarming vulnerabilities of the homeless community, including rough sleepers, to human trafficking and modern slavery.

Research shows that a high percentage of youth homelessness in the UK is experienced by LGBTQI+ youth, and that being homeless can make people at risk of being targets for traffickers. However, unlike the United States, in the UK there is a lack of information and research into LGBTQI+ youth homelessness and risks to trafficking. 

LGBTQI+ survivors of trafficking: An untold story 

Amnesty International research has revealed that same-sex sexual activity is a crime in seventy countries and is punishable by death in nine. The very existence of these laws reinforces prejudice against LGBTQI+ people in many countries across the world. This leaves many vulnerable and with a potential to feel isolated, desperate to escape discrimination and a life lived in fear. This is where traffickers can enter the story, with promises of an opportunity for a better life.  Whilst there is a lack of research in this area, we have anecdotally heard of cases where vulnerabilities as a result of being LGBTQI+ has been used against victims by their traffickers, who threaten to report or return the victim to a place where they may face potentially life threatening consequences.

Hestia Housing and Support is a UK based charity who work with people on their recovery journey. They are the largest provider of support to adult survivors of trafficking in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in the UK. They have shared with STOP THE TRAFFIK a case about a survivor’s journey before she entered the NRM.

Alex* is a survivor of trafficking who identifies as transgender. As a result of trafficking Alex had experienced profound trauma and was diagnosed with psychosis. Due to this, Alex found it really hard to engage with services in the UK. Alex found it very challenging to trust people and was fearful of opening up, this was further compounded in that Alex could not speak English fluently, causing another barrier to accessing support. Due to these barriers, Alex couldn’t access support of medical professionals, therefore Alex would often have to self administer and purchase unregulated doses of hormone medication. Alex now works with a Hestia advocate, who supports her to safely access the support she needs.

*Name changed

This is the experience of one survivor in the UK after they had escaped trafficking but it could potentially echo many more.  It demonstrates just some of the complexities that a LGBTQI+ survivor of trafficking may face even after they have escaped exploitation.

Research and further understanding is key  

STOP THE TRAFFIK is an intelligence-led organisation. By analysing instances of trafficking and survivor stories, we can understand how exploitation happens, identifying recruitment methods and recurring trends. Through research and analysis, we can build a picture of what trafficking looks like in communities, enabling us to predict occurrences and prevent it happening. Key to our understanding are the invaluable and trusted partnerships we form with frontline organisations across the world. We hope, in future to work with organisations providing frontline support to the LGBTQI+ community who may be targeted by traffickers and be at risk of exploitation   

UK organisations that support the LGBTQI+ community 

  • Galop – The LGBTQI+ anti-violence charity:   
  • Stonewall – National organisation providing campaigning, resources and training for LGBTQI+ community:   
  • Stonewall Housing – A specialist LGBTQI+ housing advice and support provider in England:   
  • The Albert Kennedy Trust – Supports LGBTQI+ homeless young people:   
  • UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group – Promotes equality and dignity for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in UK:   

Help and support

  • To get help, report a suspicion or seek advice regarding human trafficking and exploitation, you can call the Modern Slavery helpline on 08000 121 700 
  • If you or anyone you know are in immediate danger, please call the police on 999.
  • The STOP APP is available for download to report suspicions of human trafficking. 

LGBTQI+ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and +. The + identifies a range of different definitions and terminology used some of which can be found here. 

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