Wait, I Thought That Didn’t Happen to Guys?
“Boys and men are victims of sex trafficking too? Aren’t they too strong for that? I’m a guy, and I’d never let myself be trafficked.”
This type of reaction remains rather common for those hearing about male sex trafficking victims for the first time. The dominant narrative of sex trafficking victims typically characterizes a young, vulnerable female. Plus, countless films and news stories highlight young girls being captured and sold into sex slavery. Think Taken, (“If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it…”), or The Whistleblower.
Yes, females absolutely make up the majority of human trafficking victims, which lines up with the 2016 Global Estimates that about 71% of human trafficking victims and 99% of sex trafficking victims are female. It’s clear that females remain disproportionately exploited, and more awareness and resources are continuously needed for females. But out of the estimated 4.9 million individuals enslaved in sex trafficking on any given day, 1% still leaves about 49,000 men and boys. So, what about the 1%?
While highlighting the other 1%, the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons stated, “…most detected victims are still women, [but] children and men now make up larger shares of the total number of victims than they did a decade ago.”
As another example, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has recorded over 34,000 human trafficking cases between 2012 and 2017. Out of these 34,000 cases, over 13%–or more than 4500–were male. Additionally, the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons estimated that between 2012 and 2014, more than 1 in 5 trafficking victims were men. The report further approximated that children comprised 28%–over a quarter–of detected victims in 2014. About 1 in 3 of these children were boys. Even though the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons observed that the majority of male victims were trafficked for labor, over 6% of male victims became trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Just like many women and girls enslaved in the sex trade, a lot of men and boys come from physically and sexually abusive backgrounds and lack family support. A majority have also either run away from home, or have been thrown out of home. This in turn leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. Many enter the sex trade for basic necessities: food, shelter, money, clothing, drugs and transportation.
“My mom passed away from giving birth to me, and my dad never let me forget it. That was one of the things that he used to groom me into becoming a human-trafficking victim. He was my first molester and he was also my trafficker. I was trafficked from the age of 6 to 15. During that time, I was beaten, strangled, starved. Mental abuse. You name it. I went through it,” said sex trafficking survivor, Tom Jones.
Another survivor, Paul, became enslaved by a pimp who forced him to service anyone from patrol cops to pastors. His pimp participated in a large criminal ring, trafficking boys and girls from all over the United States. If Paul attempted to run away, his chances of escape would’ve been next to none as he most likely would’ve been found and severely beaten. Eventually, a large undercover rescue operation rescued Paul along with a group of children. However, at first, the agents tested him to determine whether he was a trafficker or victim. Stunned, they discovered he was a victim as well.
The agents’ shock all too sadly highlights the stigma and taboos surrounding male sex trafficking victims. “The Department of State claims that the often hidden crime of sex trafficking boys remains under wraps largely due to the cultural climate and taboos around the practice…the majority of Americans want to believe two things about the sex trafficking of men and boys: 1) Men and boys always have the power to get out, therefore they are not considered victims; 2) Men and boys are not in need of the same victim services that are offered to women and girls.”
With stigmas and lack of resources surrounding male survivors, Paul’s continued experience especially spoke to my heart about the need for more resources for males. After rescuing Paul, law enforcement tried their best, and the Department of Social Services placed him in a foster care home. Though within weeks, an older child sexually abused Paul, and the words of his pimp, "You ain’t good for nothing but turning tricks,” stuck in his mind again. Feeling conflicted and believing these words, Paul ran away and returned to the life.
I wish Paul’s story wasn’t also the story of many other boys, but unfortunately his story remains all too common. When many boys seek services or try to leave the life, they often find few available services to meet their needs, leaving them with little hope to escape the life. With extremely few direct services for male victims of sexual violence, the cycle of violence continues.
Thankfully, some resources do exist for male survivors, including the following:
Urban Light: An NGO in Thailand that supports male victims of sex trafficking.
The Anchor House: A living and treatment facility in North Carolina for boys and young men between ages 12 and 18 who have been trafficked.
Ark of Freedom: A male and transgender-specific outreach, housing and empowerment programming.
Surviving Our Struggle: An aftercare center for young male trafficking victims.
1% is still thousands too many. The cycle of violence doesn’t have to start or continue with anyone.
About the Author
Lauren Farris is a recent graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in Creative Writing and Sociology, and she's excited to partner with Dressember in the fight to end slavery. She also adores corgis, messy paint, mud, hiking in wildflowers, reading, traveling, and a good Lord of the Rings marathon.