SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A new UCSF study finds that one out of three teen who break the law are members of the LGBTQ community.
It looked at adolescents who are first time offenders.
The lead author says this study is an important first step in understanding what is happening among LGBTQ youth.
"Being hungry is a very powerful motivator to do something, need a way to make money to provide for yourself, whatever that may be. People are going to do what they can do to survive," said a gay youth in San Francisco about surviving on the streets in a video from Larkin Street Youth Services. It is a nonprofit that helps homeless youth.
The group says the new UCSF study finding that one in three youth who break the law are members of the LGBTQ community, is not surprising.
"Some desperation leads them to sex work, sex for cash so they can eat," said Matthew Verscheure, interim chief of programs for Larkin Street Youth Services.
"Without the first step of awareness , we can't do anything else to help these adolescent who are at higher risk for these types of behaviors," said Dr. Matthew Hirschtritt, a psychiatrist with UCSF and the study's lead author.
The study surveyed 423 youth, ages, 12 to 18, from a juvenile court in New England. It found that one third identified as a member of the LGBTQ community. The researcher says this first of its kind study brings to light what he describes as an invisible population.
"We now know that they have...confirms our suspicion having worked in the field, that they're at higher risk for some very risky behavior like drug use," said Dr. Hirschtritt.
The study also found that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for witnessing family violence, for self harm and depression.
Researchers say the offenses committed by these teens often include truancy. While minor, they say it exposes the teen to life on the street and potentially pave an indirect path to more serious crimes.
Youth who are LGBTQ have a higher incidents of abuse and neglect, family disconnection so they're more prone to be in situations where they might be doing things that are illegal," said Verscheure.
This study followed the teens for two years. Researchers are now looking at whether the young people re-offend. And if they do, the reasons behind their actions.
Researchers say the youth's first court appearance should be an opportunity to intervene and provide counseling and support.