By Loretta Brown, September 7, 2017
Washington, D.C. – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Washington College, and The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking held a historic press conference at the National Press Club Thursday to kick off the first ever symposium on the sexual exploitation harming boys and men.
The government, NGOs, and society at large have overlooked male victims of sexual exploitation, the organizations argued, leaving the victims without adequate resources.
Haley Halverson, Director of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, cited some very troubling research showing that these victims have been largely left behind by society.
She explained that children who experience sexual abuse are at an increased risk of being sex trafficked, but that this is especially true for boys. Halverson cited a 2017 study from the American Journal of Public Health which “found that girls who were sexually abused as children were 2.5 times more likely to be sex trafficked, but for boys their risk factor of being sex trafficked was over eight times greater if they had been sexually abused.”
Halverson added that “research is showing that when boys report sexual abuse they’re met with more mistrust than girls and, upon analysis, media stories about abuse or sex trafficking regularly focus on young, white females instead of addressing more complex narratives.”
She also cited one study that surveyed 37 service providers for sexual trafficking victims across the United States and found “between them there were only 28 beds for sex trafficked males, this despite the fact that estimated range of male trafficking victims hovers in the hundreds of thousands.”
“When we render the victimized experiences of boys and men socially invisible policymakers and service providers fail to account for them,” she warned.
Halverson also pointed to the troubling verdict in the case of Jeffrey Hurant, CEO of the male-escort site Rentboy, who received only six months from U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie in a Brooklyn court despite running “what the government has called one of the largest sex work ventures ever prosecuted.”
“Evidence presented by prosecutors showed that Rentboy was covertly working with pimps and sex traffickers,” she said “one sex trafficker used the website to sell 10 to 12 year old boys.”
Halverson urged Congress to “pursue its current efforts to amend the Communications Decency Act which will allow states and victims of sex trafficking to hold online facilitators of sex trafficking accountable.”
“Our law too often simultaneously gives a free pass to virtual slavery auctions for crimes that would be easily prosecuted if they occurred on the streets,” she said.
“We all have our part to shed a light on the needs of exploited boys and men,” Halverson concluded. “The media must constantly cover diverse individuals especially boys and men impacted by sex trafficking and child sexual abuse…service providers must actively develop better recovery and intervention services for these individuals and judicial and policy influencers at every level must make a serious and concerted effort to hold exploiters accountable.”
Tom Jones, a sexual abuse and trafficking survivor who founded the Healing, Outreach and Peer Empowerment (H.O.P.E.) Project, also spoke about the silence surrounding male victims and the need for more data to give them better resources.
“This deep silence is what’s keeping the problem continuing,” Jones said. “The silence embodies shame, it embodies questions of sexuality, and it questions cultural differences, cultural barriers. It embodies so many things but the bottom line is that it embodies silence.”