How Does Juvenile Detention Increase Trafficking Risk?

June 20, 2024


“I Want Them to Know This Can Happen to Them Too.”Iris DeLawrence, Network Advocate

  • The 14-year-old boy who is forced to have sex with the landlord so that his mom doesn’t get evicted.
  • The 15-year-old boy who trades sexual favors with a family friend for marijuana.
  • The 13-year-old boy who is threatened with gang violence if he does not share sexually explicit photographs with an older man.

These are just a few of the stories that Network Advocate, Iris DeLawrence, shared with the boys at Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility recently.

Youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system are at significant risk of being trafficked — male and female alike. Many have witnessed extensive trauma prior to their first arrest. Traffickers may try to convince court-involved youth that they are unhirable, that their community won’t accept them, or that they don’t need an education – all elements that further increase a youth’s risk of being trafficked.

Quite a few incarcerated boys join gangs prior to their arrest. They may have been trying to make ends meet or in search of community that would accept them. More will seek safety by joining gangs while they are in corrections, and are expected to participate fully in the gang upon their release. Many gang-affiliated youth have been labor trafficked — forced to deal weapons and drugs or work without pay — and many gang-involved youth have been coerced into providing sexual images or services under threat of harm to themselves or their loved ones.

Many boys who find themselves in this situation may have already been sexually exploited and are most likely unsure about how to process the trauma that has occurred in their body.

It’s important that court-involved young men understand factors that contribute to trafficking and exploitation and learn how to engage in healthy relationships with peers and adults. That’s why Gracehaven’s prevention team is so excited to help educate these young boys at Indian River Correctional Facility about sexual exploitation and trafficking, and how they can prevent it from happening to themselves or others.

During these quarterly sessions our team will communicate three key messages:

  1. They are more than what they have done, or what has happened to them.
  2. “This can happen to them too.”
  3. There is still hope for a bright future.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Indian River boys on a quarterly basis.