Phoenix (January 4, 2016)  Thirty five percent of homeless young adults surveyed in Arizona report being exploited by sex traffickers, up from 25% who answered affirmatively on the same survey done in 2014.  Trafficked youth also report initial sexual exploitation at an average age of just 15 and a high incidence of suicide attempts.

The just-released Youth Experience Survey (YES Report), funded by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and administered by the ASU School of Social Work, Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, shows vulnerable homeless youth are coerced into sex to survive and often encounter dangers to health and safety as a result, according to officials.

“These results put the community on notice,” said Tumbleweed Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Schuler. “Sexual exploitation of our vulnerable youth, 60% of whom are born and raised in Arizona, is becoming more widespread.”

“It’s very disturbing that the reported average of first sex trafficking experience is just 15,” she added. “The message during this national Human Trafficking Awareness Month is that it stops now. We need to ramp up the fight to protect already-traumatized youth from these predators.”

Forty-five percent of surveyed homeless young women and 24% of surveyed homeless young men report being coerced into sexual activity. More than a third say they have attempted suicide to escape the sex trafficking business and the trauma associated with homelessness.

Sixty-four percent report using drugs and 32 percent say they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The YES Report gathered information from 215 homeless young adults, primarily in Maricopa County, in the summer of 2015. ASU conducted a similar survey in the summer of 2014.

“Traffickers exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of homeless young people, often convincing them they are being cared for,” said Melissa Brockie, Tumbleweed Director of Health Programs. “Survivors become isolated and controlled and often believe they are unable to end the coercion and abuse.”

Experts say finding and building connections to sometimes-forgotten or distant family members shows promise as a way to help youth create a support network to break their dependency on exploiters. Thirty one percent of YES Report responders say they have some connection with their family and 45% say they would like to be more connected.