Survival sex

Survival sex is prostitution engaged in by a person because of their extreme need. It describes the practice of people who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in society, trading sex for food, a place to sleep, or other basic needs, or for drugs.[1] The term is used by sex trade, poverty researchers, and aid workers.[2][3]

Some thinkers suggest that people are motivated to prostitute themselves because it is familiar – specifically to victims of child sexual abuse.[4] Other researchers state that, while some see it as a normal job, the vast majority want to get out of the industry given the potential for disease and dangerous clients.[5]


Survival sex is common throughout the world, and has been extensively studied in many countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Colombia, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa.[6]

Researchers estimate that of homeless youth in North America, one in three has engaged in survival sex. In one study of homeless youth in Los Angeles, about one-third of females and half of males said they had engaged in survival sex.[7] Likelihood increases with the number of days the youth has been homeless, experience of being victimized, engaging in criminal behaviour, using illegal substances, attempting suicide, being pregnant and having an STI.[8][9]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender street children are three times likelier to engage in survival sex compared with their heterosexual counterparts, according to one study. Another found that transgender youth are most likely of all to engage in survival sex.[7]

Survival sex is common in refugee camps. In internally displaced persons camps in northern Uganda, where 1.4 million civilians have been displaced by conflict between Ugandan government forces and the militant Lord's Resistance Army, Human Rights Watch reported in 2005 that displaced women and girls were engaging in survival sex with other camp residents, local defense personnel, and Ugandan government soldiers.[10]

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