“It’s not only females that experience sexual exploitation” -Beth Holger-Ambrose
The perpetrators of human trafficking are equal opportunity exploiters; they will enslave anyone who is vulnerable. In the State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, the state recognized the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LBGTQ) people to human trafficking. It found discrimination and cultural expectations have made it difficult to identify and help LGBTQ trafficking victims. The Link, a Minneapolis based social services organization working with at-risk and sexually exploited youth, has the only program in Minnesota that serves girls, boys and LGBTQ youth of all gender identities. Kevin Miller spoke with Beth Holger-Amrbose, The Link’s Executive Director in an e-mail interview about the vulnerability of the LGBTQ community to human trafficking.
Imprisoned Show: What factors make LGBTQ youth so vulnerable to human trafficking?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: -The Family Acceptance Project’s research (can google it for further stats) estimates that 1 of 4 LGBTQ youth will not be accepted by their families and may be kicked out which puts them at a higher risk for homelessness than non LGBTQ youth.
-Youth are coming out younger (13-14) also from Family Acceptance Project research which puts them at a higher risk of getting kicked out by parents/family due to the fact that the average age of “coming out” used to be in the early 20’s at which point often times people have already moved out from their families.
-Being on the streets makes LGBTQ youth much more vulnerable to being trafficked.
-LGBTQ youth who are obviously “non-gender conforming”, or “appear to be gay” or transgender often times have a harder time finding legit forms of income.
Imprisoned Show: Is homelessness as significant an issue of human trafficking in the LGBT community as current studies would suggest?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: Definitely.
Imprisoned Show: Does the Link see a lot of LGBT victims of human trafficking?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: It’s hard to tell since not all youth “come out” but we estimate that around 30% of the sexually exploited youth we serve are LGBTQ.
Imprisoned Show: In your experience, how prevalent is the problem in the Twin Cities?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: Human trafficking is a huge issue in the Twin Cities-our staff are extremely busy, and our emergency shelter and housing program for sex trafficked youth is currently full and we are turning youth away. In terms of the issue overall of LGBTQ human trafficking in Minneapolis/St. Paul it is definitely going on but no one at this time has good figures on it yet-hopefully we will after the Safe Harbor Law has been in place a year.
Imprisoned Show: How do the Link’s programs help victims and survivors?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: We have the “West Metro Regional Navigator” which is the centralized point of contact within Hennepin/Scott/Carver counties for sex trafficked youth, she provides an initial eligibility screening, safety assessment and provides crisis intervention, basic needs supplies and assistance/advocacy with getting needed services and mobile case management.
We have a specialized emergency shelter and housing program (Passageways) that has six emergency shelter beds and five housing units for sexually exploited youth (all gender identities). The shelter program serves youth 13-17 and the housing program 16-23 and can serve parenting youth with up to one child. The programs both have case management, physical and mental health assessments, mental health therapy, a survivor mentor program, on-site and off-site school/education programming, life skills, help with parenting and positive youth development activities-all of these are specifically designed for sex trafficked youth.
Supportive Services-We also have mental health therapy for youth that are living at Passageways (or who are) who are under 18 and have been sex trafficked-we provide individual, group or family reunification therapy. We also have an Aftercare Coordinator that works with youth coming out of Passageways or who have worked with the Regional Navigator.
We also operate four housing programs for homeless youth and homeless young families throughout the Metro and some of the youth there are also sex trafficked. We provide them with housing there and then connect them with our specific services for sex trafficked youth.
Imprisoned Show: There is not a lot of good data on LGBT human trafficking. Do you have any insight into why that is?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: There isn’t a lot of good numbers for human trafficking overall since it is a very underground illegal activity so I think that’s why….then it’s even harder to track the numbers of LGBTQ victims because not everyone discloses that.
Imprisoned Show: Do you think current survey methods and social services for victims of trafficking are too reliant on traditional gender and sexual norms?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: Yes, most are. Our services are good about being inclusive to all gender identities and sexual orientations-we are the only program in the state that also serves boys and we have best practices in place for serving LGBTQ youth as well.
Imprisoned Show: How adequate or inadequate are the services being offered to LGBT victims of trafficking?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: I think it’s like any other field of work-there are some agencies and providers that do amazing work and some that do not…
Imprisoned Show: What needs to be changed or improved upon?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: More agencies need to open up services, shelter and housing to all genders and realize that it’s not only female identified people that experience sexual exploitation-many people like to say that men are the traffickers and women are the victims, but I’ve also worked with youth who have been trafficked by women and also male identified victims, so it is not that clear cut.
Imprisoned Show: What else needs to be done to fight against trafficking of LGBT people?
Beth Holger-Ambrose: If we work towards eradicating homophobia and racism that would go a long ways in the fight against the trafficking of all people, including LGBTQ-couple this with providing tougher fines/sentences for buyers, creating more affordable/living wage jobs, we would be on our way to making a huge dent in the issue overall.
For more information about The Link, visit: http://www.thelinkmn.org/