Desperately Poor Teens In America’s Impoverished Inner Cities Are Trading Sex For Food

sad-girl-public-domainWhen people get hungry enough, they will do just about anything for some food.  According to brand new research that was just released this week from Feeding America and the Urban Institute, there are millions of teenagers in America that live in “food insecure” households, and researchers were stunned to learn what some of these teens are willing to do to feed themselves.  Some resort to shoplifting, others deal drugs, and there were a surprising number of participants in the study that actually admitted to trading sex for food.  It wouldn’t be a shock to hear that these kinds of things are going on in an economically-depressed nation such as Venezuela, but this is the United States of America.  We are supposed to be the wealthiest nation on the entire planet.  Sadly, even while the stock market has been soaring in recent years, poverty in America has been on the rise.  For those on the low end of the economic scale, things have gone from bad to worse since the end of the last recession, and millions of children are deeply suffering as a result.

Let’s start with some of the hard numbers.  The following comes directly from the Urban Institute website

An estimated 6.8 million people ages 10 to 17 are food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Another 2.9 million are very food insecure, and roughly 4 million live in marginally food secure households, where the threat of running out of food is real.

Food insecurity takes a tremendous toll on teenagers. Poor nutrition—and the stress of hunger and poverty—can jeopardize their physical and mental health and development and their academic success. But despite the gravity and prevalence of teen food insecurity, we know very little about how these young people experience and cope with hunger.

The researchers already knew that lots of young people were hungry in America.  But what surprised them were the lengths that many of these youngsters said that they would go to in order to get food

Some of the youths said they or someone they know — mostly young men — have turned to shoplifting food, selling drugs or stealing items to sell.

The teens also reported knowing young women who have sold their bodies for food or had sex for money so they could buy food for their families.

Going to jail or failing a class in order to have to attend summer school were also some of the lengths teens went to.

Could you imagine your daughter or your granddaughter exchanging her body for food?

For most of us that is absolutely unthinkable, but the truth is that this is taking place on the streets of America every single day.

And this wasn’t just some blind random phone survey.  The researchers conducted personal interviews with focus groups, and what these kids were willing to admit doing was absolutely astounding.  Here is another excerpt directly out of the report

  • When faced with acute food insecurity, teens in all but two of the communities said that youth engage in criminal behavior, ranging from shoplifting food directly to selling drugs and stealing items to resell for cash. These behaviors were most common among young men in communities with the most limited job options.
  • Teens in all 10 communities and in 13 of the 20 focus groups talked about some youth selling sex for money to pay for food. These themes arose most strongly in high-poverty communities where teens also described sexually coercive environments. Sexual exploitation most commonly took the form of transactional dating relationships with older adults.
  • In a few communities, teens talked about going to jail or failing school (so they could attend summer classes and get school lunch) as viable strategies for ensuring regular meals.

Many of these young people understand that what they are doing is wrong.  Just consider what some of them told the researchers

A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

Another comment from Portland: “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.’”

Many prefer to rationalise what they are doing as dating of sorts. A boy in rural North Carolina said: “When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise. 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.”

When I read the information in this report, I was stunned.  Yes, I write about our economic decline and the rise in poverty all the time, but I didn’t know that things were this bad.

And the researchers were surprised by what they were hearing as well.  One of them said that the fact that girls are trading their bodies for food “was really shocking to me”, and she believes that things are “just getting worse over time”

“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.”

But aren’t we being told that things are getting better?

Aren’t we being told that our leaders “fixed” the economy?

Of course the truth is that America is mired in a long-term economic decline that stretches back for decades.  With each passing year the middle class gets smaller as a percentage of the population, and poverty continues to grow.  Last year the middle class became a minority of the population for the first time ever, and a lot of formerly middle class Americans are now among those that aren’t sure that they are going to have enough food to eat this month.

Hunger in America is a major crisis and it is growing.  Just because you may live in a comfortable home in a wealthy neighborhood does not mean that this problem is not real.

Tonight there are millions of Americans that do not know where their next meal is going to come from, and they deserve our love and compassion.

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  • Beverly Larkwood

    But America spent over $ 4.7 Trillion dollars on wars of aggression during the past 15 years and many more billions on “national security” like the TSA and DHS. Yet America is not able to feed her children. This is beyond pathetic.

    • So true and sad Beverly Larkwood.

      • diogenes

        Well, of course. The military-industrial complex — as President Eisenhower called it, is by far the biggest source of cash flow for the 1% of Americans who own 51% of America — the hereditary aristocracy of blood money, built on the corpses, past present and future, of millions of men, women and children. And they talk about the human sacrifice of Carthage and the Aztecs as barbaric and cannibalism as sub-human! Ask Rockefeller how babies taste.

  • Charlie Primero

    LOL. What a load of utter Bullshyte.

    I guarantee none of the Leftist Oligarchs listed at the links below EVER stand in line at Wal-Mart watching 300 pound “poor” people pay for heaps of Ribeye steaks, Briskets, and frozen deserts with their EBT card while the working people in line behind them clutching their wood protein fortified ground “beef” and mac-n-cheeze smolder with anger.

    You will find these people at exclusive Whole Foods and Fresh Markets complaining to the manager because Chad put their imported bok choy in the same bag as their artisanal yogurt.

    • Evil Genius

      Nice use of imagery Charlie, but it’s bullshit. EBT pays what? 200 a month for an individual? Less? Can’t buy many ribeyes or briskets with that.

      I can’t speak for what happens at walmart – i wouldnt give that company a dollat if you put a gun to my head. But i have watched people with EBT in the checkout lines at the markets where I shop.

      Starch. Bulk starch. Sacks of potatos, bags of rice, pasta, onions, cheap pasta sauces. Bulk cheap starch. I notice they also tend to buy lots of the cheap hotdogs at a dollar a pound.

      • Charlie Primero

        Ha! I wish you people in the ivory towers and hipster lofts could spend a year living around poor people like my cousins and their hordes of kids.

        Here’s the food subsidy in welfare-stingy Texas. Some of my family moved Oregon for better benefits:

        • cityspeak

          Ivory towers, hipster lofts?
          Come down to earth please. You seem to have a view of people that sound like stereotypes and not at all like flesh and blood human beings.

        • Evil Genius

          Ivory tower? I’m a retired blue collar worker on a pension. Just because I have an IQ that makes Einstein look a bit slow, doesn’t mean I’ve ever had any respect for the academic community, or any desire to be part of it.

          Hipster? I’m a beat up old biker…

          You ignorant, preening fool.

    • cityspeak

      Is the reason for you post comedy?
      To deny that the “richest nation on earth” has a hunger problem?
      That somewhere there are elitist making nonsensical expensive food sources, fat lazy welfare recipients living large and that “true blue” americans are getting abused by both?
      Your humor and outrage may be used better to comment on the current system of government being ran by an entreched power structure that doesn’t care a wit about the welfare of her citizens, the natural world or our international neighbors.

      • Charlie Primero

        There is indeed a Hunger Problem in the U.S. I guarantee it is not among the Leftist Oligarchs in my links above or the welfare State voters they grow.

        Your ignorance of this fact assures me that you have never worked hard or gone hungry in order to cut a check to the I.R.S.

        • cityspeak

          I’ve been “working” since I was 12.
          I have faced food scarcity in my life time.
          I have dealt with the IRS on two occasions and was surprised in my cases anyway how relatively civil and easy the cases were resolved.

          There is ignorance here but it isn’t coming from me.

  • Doctor Cocktail

    Michael Snyder’s article looks very similar to The Guardian’s on 9/12, “US teens often forced to trade sex work for food, study finds”

  • America’s Trafficking in Persons Report is a failure

    The United States government is forcing people to lie about being sex trafficking victims because they can’t find enough real victims! (John Kerry, Obama, Hillary Clinton and the USA government are forcing people to lie about being victims – if they don’t lie they are put in jail or deported using the TIPS report)

    Here are some research links:

  • Global Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet: Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This, despite the fact international law and the laws of 134 countries criminalize sex trafficking.

    At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.

    About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.

    Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

    Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

    Sex trafficking is a human rights violation

    • cityspeak

      Ok, sorry I misread your first post.
      Yes it exists and yes it is a problem.

  • cityspeak

    Hey Lincoln I don’t know where you live but I recommend going to any major city in the USA. I
    recommend San Francisco and visit all those neon lit massage parlors of which there are many.

    See how many asian woman are stored there, some under lock and key behind blacked out windows.

    Maybe you think sex work was the profession of choice of these young women coming from the poorest regions of Asia?

    The only “liberal conspiracy” (SF is considered a liberal city by many) isn’t that they can’t find sex trafficked people, it is how they look the other way while it is rampant all around them.

  • tom

    “We are supposed to be the wealthiest nation on the entire planet”.

    Where the word “we” hides more than it reveals. There is a group of Americans who have a lot of the planet’s wealth, but they include only those who are adept at stealing and cheating.

    • diogenes

      51% of the wealth of America is in the hands of 1% of our population. 28% of it is in the hands of oner person in a thousand, 0.1% of our population, 160,000 families among 320 million of us. 14% of the wealth in America is in the hands of one person in ten thousand, 0.01% of our population, 16,000 families among 320 million of us. 60% of us together own under 1% of all wealth. Over 20% of us live and die deep in debt. America is a rich country, but its riches are less equitably distributed than in any other ‘developed’ country on earth. That’s what American teenagers need to sell their asses for food. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the country for which it stands, one nation, under God (who must be very pissed), with liberty and justice for all. Amen.