Research demonstrates the many ways in which economic strain increases the risk of child sexual abuse. The UN warns that, due to the unique circumstances of the Coronavirus lockdown, children are at a heightened risk to be sexually abused, including by adults seeking to make a financial gain on the growing demand for child pornography. “School closures may also lead to an escalation of child trafficking cases. Many children have lost their subsidized school meals, which is posing a new burden on fragile families economies. Consequently, many children might be forced into child labor or child marriage.” Furthermore, there is a heightened risk of abuse for children abused by adults in the home. The lack of childcare for some parents who must work outside the home or for working parents not available to monitor their child’s safety and behavior online creates new and potentially harmful possibilities. Parents may have also had to put children in the care of alternative caregivers if daycare is closed or if regular caregivers are not available, which also raises concerns of increased risks of child sexual abuse. Children may also be spending an increased amount of time online, heightening their exposure to inappropriate content or online sex predators.
Children and teens facing poverty and/or abuse are more likely to run away from home and experience sexual violence or be exploited. Financial crisis creates a desperate climate where many individuals feel pushed into survival sex, which increases their risk of sexual assault and causes further trauma.
Foster youth are among the highest at risk of sexual violence, with 81% of girls in foster care reporting an experience, and 68% reporting chronic sexual violence by more than one perpetrator. Foster youth already face extreme economic barriers even in non-crisis times. However, since the crisis, 47% former foster youth have experienced further financial trouble which has caused food insecurity, and 37% were worried they wouldn’t be able to pay rent. Housing insecurity pushes countless former foster youth onto the streets, increasing the risk of sexual violence and further increasing their rate of homelessness which hovers around 38%. Another mid-COVID survey by FosterClub illustrates the high loss of youth employment, with 65% of former foster youth between the ages of 18 and 24 newly unemployed. Thirty-three percent of unemployed, newly aged-out foster youth are ineligible for unemployment benefits due to little to no work history and few opportunities to develop their work experience, which will have larger economic consequences down the road. Foster youth also struggle to find reputable co-signers for rentals, the purchases of cars and cell phones, and other important resources which require credit checks. Survival sex often becomes an option they are likely to consider. These added barriers affect their ability to heal from previous sexual harm and put them at a higher risk for future sexual violence.
This blog is part of a series on the intersections of economic insecurity and sexual violence in the COVID era. Read the rest of the series here: