For Immediate Release: 
May 16, 2019
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember Grosso on CDC study regarding students who trade sex for survival needs

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, on a new analysis of Youth Risk Behavior Survey results that found 7.4 percent of D.C. high schoolers have exchanged sex for money, a place to stay, food or something else of value, as first reported by WAMU:

“Students turning to trading sex for survival needs is a stunning failure of the District of Columbia to aid the youth who need our support most. What is most frustrating is that we know these kids. We have the opportunity to help them every day when they step foot into our school buildings. Yet we do not meet them where they are with the services they need.

“How can we demand academic excellence from them and put them on the path to a successful future when they do not know where they will rest their head that night or where their next meal is coming from? The study also notes that these students are at a greater risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If these students do not have access to food and shelter, it's unlikely they have regular access to medical treatment.

“Compounding these disadvantages, D.C. continues to take a failed law enforcement approach to the sex trade. While I helped end the prosecution of minors involved in commercial sex in 2014, they are still subject to arrest. Adults are still fully criminalized, even though these conditions of poverty do not change when someone turns 18. Criminalizing those who engage in sex work directly undercuts their efforts to leave behind homelessness or hunger, while exposing them to greater physical and health risks. Arrest records become a barrier to other income sources or opportunities, leaving them with fewer options than before. It’s a trap.

“Despite this upsetting state of affairs, I believe we continue to make progress. We have included more money in this year’s budget to support homeless youth and provide greater access to food. I have been meeting with education leaders to address our rising HIV and STI rates among youth through comprehensive sexual education and reproductive health resources in schools.

“However, to say ‘We need to do more’ is a gross understatement. We need to provide additional social, behavioral, and physical health supports in our schools, policies I have pursued during my time as chairperson of the Committee on Education. It’s also time for a new approach to how D.C. handles sex trade, from one of criminalization to one that is focused on health and safety.”