When people are hungry they will do desperate things for food. This desperation has caused teenagers to do the unthinkable. Research done by the Urban Institute and Feeding America shows U.S. teenagers as young as 13 years old have resorted to crime and sexual favors in order to feed themselves.
In order to find out “how food insecurity affects teenagers,” Male and female focus groups were created in the 10 poorest communities across the U.S., including cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as rural towns. Researchers interviewed 193 boys and girls aged 13 to 18 over the course of three years. The results they found are shocking.
“What emerged was a portrait of impossible choices imposed upon teenagers who are forced to transition into adulthood much too quickly,” the report states.
“When faced with severe food insecurity, teens can begin to feel the weight of adult responsibilities. But like their parents, teenagers [from low-income communities] have limited jobs available to them within their communities. It’s in these moments of need when some teens make the choice to help their families stock the pantry by earning money outside of the legal economy.”
Teens at all the 10 research locations told researchers stories of how they themselves or others they know have committed crimes such as shoplifting, selling drugs, and even selling their bodies for food.
“Often this takes the form of ‘transactional dating,’ meaning a teen regularly sees and has sex with someone, often a significantly older man, in exchange for meals, material goods, or cash,” researchers found.
“You’re not even dating,” a girl in Portland, Oregon, is cited by the report as saying. “They’ll be like, ‘I don’t really love him, but I’m going to do what I have to do.’”
A boy in rural North Carolina also described how girls are selling sex for food. “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.”
The report showed boys telling the researchers how middle school girls will give out flyers to advertise their sexual services. A girl from Chicago even told researchers about an 11-year-old sixth-grader who dropped out of school to work in the sex trade.
Senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Susan Popkin, spoke to the Guardian about the findings. Popkin said in the majority of stories in all focus groups were those of girls swapping sex for goods.
The entire report can be seen Here.
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