Men and Boys in Sex Trafficking Overlooked
Key points from three different resources:
- Males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.
- Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.
- “Responses are more or less the same – how can a boy be trafficked, they’re much stronger than girls, they could get out of it if they wanted to so,” says Genna Goldsobel, state policy coordinator of ECPAT-USA, a national anti-trafficking organization based in New York.
- Many people also mistakenly associate male prostitution with homosexuality, when a majority of the trafficked youths are not gay, said Steven Pricopio, program coordinator of Surviving Our Struggle, an aftercare center for young male trafficking victims.
- Male victims come from similar backgrounds as female victims, often raised in broken families with a history of neglect and abuse, with at least 70 percent having experienced sexual abuse as children.
- LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to be kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, may comprise about one-third of this population, according to the John Jay study.
- The other two-thirds are made up of non-gay youth and “gay for pay” victims, or young heterosexual men who have sex with other men, said Meredith Dank, Senior Research Associate at The Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
- Once on the streets, young men are often lured into prostitution not only by pimps, but also by friends through peer networks that may stand to earn cash for “helping them out,” which confuses the cycle of exploitation.
Invisible Men: Male Victims of Sex Trafficking
- Men are the most overlooked victims of sex trafficking. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that 98 percent of people trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation is women, but what about the other two percent? Male survivors of sex trafficking are the silent victims of an already hidden crime. Rarely does the public hear about cases of male sex trafficking and due to feelings of shame or humiliation, victims are unlikely to report the crime. As the number of people forced into human trafficking has increased, so has the number of male victims.
- For male victims of sex trafficking the path to recovery and rehabilitation in the United States is long and full of challenges. Male victims of sex trafficking are less likely to receive support services than female victims.
- In a recent study of the number of beds in residential treatment centers for domestic victims of sex trafficking only 5 percent of the beds were allocated for men. While this statistic is troubling, it becomes even more dismal when its revealed that until 2014, there was not a single bed available for minor male victims of sex trafficking in the United States.
- Shared Hope International’s newest report interviewed domestic human trafficking service providers and found that none of the 43 organizations provided services exclusively for male survivors. Lack of residential housing for survivors of human trafficking has been a continual problem for service providers and continues to be a complex issue for the anti-trafficking community.
Human trafficking: What about the men and boys?
- If “male prostitute” is an uncommonly heard term, then “male sex trafficking victim” is rarer still. If you looked at the early literature, legislation and media coverage of sex trafficking, it would appear that the commercial sexual exploitation of men and boys is a relatively new concept, something that did not exist until recent years. In reality, men and boys are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in many countries around the world, and they even outnumber female victims within certain subcategories of trafficking. To ignore these facts is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous – it has led to the oblivious abandonment of tens of thousands of victims.
- The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000—the legal impetus behind the counter-trafficking movement in the United States—is actually split into three divisions, one devoted entirely to the Violence Against Women Act. It is an apropos attachment to a document declaring that “At least 700,000 persons annually, primarily women and children, are trafficked within or across international borders. Approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.” It goes on to state, “Many of these persons are trafficked into the international sex trade, often by force, fraud, or coercion…It involves sexual exploitation of persons, predominantly women and girls, involving activities related to prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and other commercial sexual services”.
- The same source approximates that 42 percent of victims of state-imposed labor exploitation are male. That number increases to 60 percent when considering labor exploitation in private economies. When you add sex trafficking data, this does mean that more of the nearly 21 million victims worldwide are female than male.
- And what about that 2 percent of victims of commercial sexual exploitation that is male? Are these 400,000 men and boys being overlooked? As awareness of male victimization has increased, so has recognition of the plight of individual male victims.
- Early versions of the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Reports—which are undoubtedly some of the most comprehensive sources of country-specific human trafficking information—have very few references to male victims of sex trafficking. In 2007, Japan, Malta and Slovenia acknowledged the existence of the problem. In contrast, the latest report (2014) contains references to this phenomenon in the narratives for Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, El Salvador, Eritrea, France, Ghana, Iceland, Israel, Kenya, the Philippines and Qatar. It is likely happening in many more countries, but expectations of who constitutes a trafficking victim, as well as culturally reinforced ideas of who can be victimized, prevent further reports of male sex trafficking from being made or taken seriously.
- The mainstream media and well-intentioned but misinformed or inadequately trained professionals within the counter-trafficking movement have perpetuated the image of a young, foreign, female victim. Just as it is easier to believe that a foreigner is a victim of trafficking than a U.S.-born citizen because it helps to externalize the danger onto a separate population, it may also be easier to believe that only the “weaker sex” is victimized. This notion is wrong and it is harmful. While women and girls obviously deserve protection, correcting false perceptions is the first step toward ensuring that boys—and yes, men—are also safe.