Street Smarts: Homeless LGBT youths are vulnerable to sexploitation

SAN DIEGO -- Every night, on the mean streets of San Diego, thousands of youths struggle to survive without money, a job or even a roof over their heads. They often sleep under bridges and overpasses, in overgrown canyons or with whomever makes a tempting offer to spend the night.

Many of these homeless kids are a largely invisible part of our LGBT community and have been kicked out of their homes after coming out. Rejected by their loved ones, they frequently have no place to call home.

I was once one of these kids.

To make a living and survive these harsh conditions on the streets, many of these youths are lured into child sex trafficking with promises of money and a place to stay. Sadly, it’s the start of a downhill spiral leading to drugs, violence, sexually transmitted diseases and, most of all, a terrible scenario they never imagined: a tender life bound into sexual slavery.

You may have heard about this growing problem on shows like “Dr. Phil,” NBC’s “Today Show,” even “Oprah.”

Actress Demi Moore calls it America’s “dirty little secret.” But child sex trafficking is not high on the list of importance in today’s society, which is overwhelmed with grim economic news, massive unemployment, and the collapse of the housing and lending industries.

Child sex trafficking is not going away in America, and it is an even bigger problem here in San Diego, where a mild climate and "beach town" mentality can ease the pain and fear of living on the streets. The FBI considers San Diego a “key trafficking center.”

The problem is so big in San Diego that America’s Finest City was deemed as a HICPA, or High Intensity Child Prostitution Area. That designation followed the 2001 publication of the University of Pennsylvania document, “Silent Emergency: The Commercial Exploitation of Children,” a comprehensive study involving 28 U.S. cities and 300,000 to 400,000 children.

For more facts on human trafficking, click here.

How youth sex trafficking is affecting our community

Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youths, about 30% identify as LGBT. Gays and lesbians make up about 12% of the nation’s population, therefore these numbers in the homeless community are more than double that of heterosexuals.

In one prominent study, results show that 50% of gay youths feel unwanted by their parents after coming out, and 26% are told they must leave their home immediately.

Having gone through this in my own life, I fully understand the feelings involved with being kicked to the curb, being lost, needing to feel loved, needing that reassurance from grown-ups.

Unfortunately, many of our LGBT youths in San Diego are currently enticed by the sex industry. Not only are LGBT homeless youths at extreme risk for sex trafficking, but they are also at risk for self-prostitution at local hookup sites and in online sex chat rooms. Then there is the lure and coercion of the porn industry.

When I was left to fend for myself on the streets, I was immediately lured into the pornography industry. I was without a place to sleep, without money, and without the feeling of belonging, and I was promised these things by the directors, producers and workers of the porn industry. San Diego is a gay-porn mecca with major adult film companies continually searching for new “models.”

I was young and naive and had no positive influences in my life when I was abruptly thrown out of my home. I turned to this industry without a thought and only months later realized the downward spiral my life was taking. I had to learn that while money and sex may be fun in that moment, it will never replace the deep holes I was trying to fill. These days, I still reap the continuing consequences of my actions years ago.

I still encounter constant judgment and face relationship issues over my choices of the past. I will always be haunted because I know that through making these movies, strangers will be able to view my body on those DVDs. Do I regret it? Deeply. And I can only do my part now to help other youths from taking the same path I did.

I credit not only my own self-realizations, but also the help and support of organizations such as The Center in Hillcrest, as well as counseling and my wonderful boyfriend. He continually encourages me to work on myself, learn from the past, and be a better person. He makes me the best person I can be, and I love him with all my heart.

With the number of homeless San Diego youths reaching into the thousands many other young boys have no positive influences in their lives and are often turning to the sex industry for reassurance, love and acceptance. In a community filled with drugs, parties, sex and exploitation, it is imperative that organizations such as The Center and SDGLN are present in our community to show a positive path for the next generation of LGBT people.

How to find help

San Diego County officials are also taking their part in stopping child sex trafficking.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact one of the following organizations:

Polaris Project

The Center in Hillcrest

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

The Community of LGBT Centers

Gay-Straight Alliance Network

Our Circle

To contact Josh Scarpuzzi, send an e-mail to JoshS@dogsontherun.com or visit his professional dog training website at www.DogsOnTheRun.com.