A horrible report has revealed that poverty in certain areas of the United States is so extreme, teenage girls are turning to sex work in exchange for food
A huge and horrifying new report into hunger in America – the world’s wealthiest country – has revealed that poverty is so widespread and extreme that increasing numbers of teenagers are turning to sex work in exchange for food.
The report, which was carried out in ten communities across the United States, saw teenagers from a huge range of backgrounds admit that they’re so desperate to eat that they’ll strip in bars, hand flyers out advertising sexual services or date older men who can buy them dinner – hoping that because no money is being exchanged, it doesn’t count as prostitution.
‘It’s really like selling yourself,’ said one girl from Portland, Oregon. ‘Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.’
‘You’re not even dating … they’ll be like … ‘I don’t really love him, but I’m going to do what I have to do,’ added another.
‘When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise,’ explained a boy in North Caroline. ‘Like if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight … that’s how girls deal with the struggle … That’s better than taking money because if they take money, they will be labeled a prostitute.’
‘Someone I knew dropped out of high school to make money for the family,’ recalled one girl from San Diego. ‘She felt the need to step up. She started selling herself.’
‘I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,’ said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices.
‘Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.
‘I find it particularly disturbing that all the kids in almost every focus group were aware about what was happening to the girls – they knew the story about girls dating older guys or being exploited. The stories we heard were mostly about girls dating older men in order to get them to provide money for them for rent, for food, for clothes. They’re just very vulnerable.’
‘It’s a sexual exploitation,’ she added. ‘You hear about homeless teenagers engaging in transactional sex, you hear it about refugees. To hear it from stably housed kids in the United States is shocking and even if it’s only a handful of kids, it should be something that we’re paying attention to, that there are kids that desperate.’