Big Story 10

Online ads target Britain's homeless youths with offer of shelter for sex: charity

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A rise in online adverts offering accommodation in Britain rent-free in exchange for sex has fueled fears among charities over the safety of young, homeless people who could fall prey to sexual abuse.

One posting offered escort work along with accommodation. Another proposed a rent-free “friends with benefits” arrangement.

The ads posted on U.S.-based internet bulletin board Craigslist have prompted charities to call for the website’s vetting procedures to be examined.

Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment.

“I think it’s awful that young people are in a situation where they consider taking up these ads,” Jennifer Barnes, head of policy and research for Centrepoint homeless charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last year more than 4,100 people slept rough in England, a 16 percent rise on the year before, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Barnes said besides searching for housing on websites like Craigslist, some young people were using dating apps and dating websites to find shelter, while others were approaching people in clubs or bars and asking whether they could stay with them.

Many young people who end up homeless are escaping abuse at home and need accommodation last minute, Barnes said.

“Young people aren’t doing this because they want to, they’re doing it because they’re desperate for somewhere to stay,” Barnes said. “By going down this route they’re putting themselves at significant risk.”

A survey by Centrepoint in December found that 26 percent of young, homeless people had stayed in the house of a stranger.