Popular culture rarely acknowledges the fact that boys and men are also the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Even some anti-trafficking groups are unfamiliar with this issue, with very few sex trafficking recovery programs serving male victims.
Anna Smith, co-founder and executive director of Restore One, an organization dedicated to helping in the recovery of boys who have been trafficked, spoke at the 2016 Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation’s Summit. At the CESE Summit, experts in all areas of sexual exploitation come together to share research, facilitate discussion, and raise awareness.
Anna and Restore One created the country’s first safe home for male victims of human trafficking in 2014.
Smith was unaware of the sexual victimization of men and boys until she started working with survivors and hearing their stories. She was shocked to hear of males being sold online on Rentboy.com and how little attention the media paid to the issue when the website was exposed in August 2015.
Now, Smith actively advocates for a change in the way we speak about and treat sexually abused boys and men.
She explains that society typically portrays males as the “bad guys,” the ones to avoid, the offender. Smith points out that as a culture, we tell men they are supposed to be strong and stoic. When they do not conform to this stereotype, we view them as either “hypomasculine” (e.g., weak for being victimized) or “hypermasculine” (e.g., heartless perpetrators).
Smith reports that males who experience sexual abuse and report it are often met with disbelief from local authorities, medical professionals, and even family members. To come forward and get the help they need, they should be assured to know they will not be discounted or pushed aside.
Smith draws attention to the disturbing lack of programs focused on helping men and boys and the change that needs to be made. Males suffer, too, but are not provided with the resources to heal and recover.
She also advocates that male survivors be included in policy discussions about prevention and advocacy against sexual abuse and exploitation. Excluding men and boys from efforts to combat sexual abuse and exploitation is a mistake.
“We need to stop overlooking people because of their gender. We need to allow space for men and boys to be vulnerable,” Smith admonished.