I learn something new from work every day, and some days it’s a struggle not to get thoroughly depressed by the depravity that surrounds us.
So let’s talk about survival sex. I was reading an article in one of the past newsletters of the organization I work for and came across the sentence “Many of these [homeless] youth participate in prostitution and survival sex.” Maybe I live in a sheltered world (actually, I know I do. I spent most of the last three years in a cube reading about things like horizontal anisotropy, radionuclide migration, and the 39 different types of rock that comprise Yucca Mountain.). I hadn’t heard the term, so I googled.
The first article to come up was what I thought a fascinating discussion on the difference between prostitution and survival sex. The author explains:
Survival sex” is what it is to be called when the woman has no choice due to financial situation, a drug habit, a pimp, or other situation out of her control which forces her to turn to selling sex to survive. “Prostitution”, on the other hand, is to be used for women who have other options but make the choice to sell sex for money (for instance, it pays the bills quicker than being a waitress or they can fund their way through school faster and with more flexibility than being a receptionist).
The author only speaks of women, which isn’t surprising given that the mission of the site is to give young women a platform on which to speak on their own behalf. But so many of the male youth that come through our organization are also participating in survival sex and prostitution.
Think about your own workplace and the protections that are in place to prevent sexual harassment. Now think of all the people (mostly women) who have fallen prey to employers who have issued a choice: have sex with the boss or lose your job. Now think about these same employees, but picture them ten years younger, with no job, no home, no family, no support…and then make the choice between sleeping under an underpass in January or having sex to be able to stay inside where there might be heat and a bathroom.
“I’ll let you stay here if you’ll let me touch your breasts.” Would you do it? If you had no where to go and the temperature outside was in the low 40s and you were looking at sleeping on a cardboard box under a highway? Maybe not the first or second night, but my guess is that by the third night I’d probably lift my shirt and be happy about it. But we all know that’s not where it stops.
A lot of the studies we have on the shelves here estimate that of the youth on the street (both male and female), approximately 22 to 27% of them have engaged in prostitution and/or survival sex. That means that out of the approximately 1,500 homeless youth here in Santa Clara county, about 400 of them have had to submit to a sexual advance.
I feel the pressure now to do more to raise awareness of the organization and its good work trying to provide all the homeless youth in SC county with a choice other than freezing or survival sex. It’s a little overwhelming.