MYST Project 2022 Data Brief

Transgender and Gender Diverse Students Involved in Trading Sex: Data from the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey

A critical gap in information about the intersections between gender identity and trading sex hinders work in the field. This brief shares new school-based prevalence estimates and correlates of trading sex among transgender and gender diverse (TGD) high school students. Trading sex presents many harms to young people. In 2019, the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS) – a tri-annual census of young people in Minnesota’s schools – added a new question for 9th and 11th graders about trading sex.

These rates are likely underestimates of the actual numbers of youth who trade sex because the Minnesota Student Survey is completed by young people attending schools. Youth absent from the school on the day of survey administration or who do not attend school are not included. Many young people who trade sex do not regularly attend school so they are likely under-counted. TGD students are at elevated risk to be bullied, absent from school or pushed out of school altogether. Students may also be reluctant to answer “yes” to the question about trading sex for many reasons, including shame or fear.


Trading sex: A term referring to exchanging sex for anything of value, including money, basic needs, and more. It also includes experiences of sex trafficking and exploitation. The State of Minnesota considers all instances of youth sex trading as sexual exploitation. The MSS only asks yes or no to sex trading; we do not know how youth view their experiences.

Transgender and gender diverse (TGD): People whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not align. The MSS asks students to indicate if they identify as transgender, genderqueer, or genderfluid or not, with follow-up questions on identity and expression.

Cisgender: People whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth align.

Relevant experiences & contexts

Some groups of young people are more likely to be impacted by trading sex and sexual exploitation. Below is the percentage of youth in some of these groups who reported that they have traded sex. For example, among youth in juvenile correctional facilities who completed the MSS, 12% reported trading sex.

presentation slide showing in a juvenile correctional facility 12%, ever been in foster care 8.1%, ever experienced sexual violence 7.7%, unstable housing in the past year 6.4%, attend an ALC 5.4%

4 This estimate is derived from a separate sample of youth in juvenile correctional facilities.
5 ALC includes alternative schools and area learning centers. This estimate is derived from a separate sample of students attending ALCs.

Plans for after school

Like all young people, those impacted by trading sex have hopes and dreams for their future. The MSS asks students what they plan to do after they graduate from high school. Among those who said “yes” to trading sex, here is what they want to do after graduation:

plans for after school slide displaying higher education 63%, work or career training 17%, join the military 7%, other 14%

Mental Health

Discrimination, bullying, and stigma put TGD youth at alarmingly high risk for mental health problems.

85% of TGD students who trade sex have seriously considered attempting suicide
76% said they had attempted suicide
68% have been treated for a mental health, emotional, or behavioral problem

About the research

The Minnesota Student Survey is coordinated by the Departments of Education, Health, Human Services, and Public Safety. In 2019, 81% of public school districts participated. Throughout the state, 66% of 9th and 54% of 11th graders completed the MSS. Passive parental consent was used, following federal laws. The primary MSS sample is comprised of 71,007 students who answered the new question about sex trading. The focus of this brief is on the sample of 1,024 transgender and gender diverse students who answered the sex trading question. Smaller samples of students in alternative schools, ALCs, and juvenile correctional facilitates are also available.

Meet the University of Minnesota MYST team

Lauren Martin

Lauren Martin, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Nursing

Barb McMorris

Barbara J. McMorris, PhD
Associate professor
School of Nursing

nic ryder

Nic Rider, Ph.D.
Assistant professor
Medical School

Katie Johnson Goodstar

Katie Johnston-Goodstar
Associate professor
School of Social Work

Camille Brown

Camille Brown PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Nursing

Montana Filoteo

Montana Filoteo
Virtual Engagement Lead
School of Nursing

emily singerhouse

Emily Singerhouse

Teo Crespo-Carrión

Teo Crespo-Carrión
Digital Marketing Consultant