Male victims of sex trafficking

Originally posted on May 17, 2011

The Good Men Project Magazine recently featured an article by Tom Matlack about sex slavery in the United States. Matlack interviewed an agent from Homeland Security. It was a good column that offered a lot of information about sex slavery and what the victims go through. It did have one flaw: there was no mention of male victims at all.

Sexual violence against males is taboo subject. Most male victims do not report their abuse, there are fewer services available to them, and virtually no concern for them either socially or from government-run organizations. This lack of concern renders male victims invisible, and quite often what cannot be seen gets treated as if it does not exist.

In contrast, many groups focus on the issue of the sex trafficking of women, resulting in a lot of — albeit questionable — information, studies, and estimates. Matlack’s column focuses on that greater concern for female victims, which also plays into the political lean of the magazine. To fill the absence of information about male victim of sex trafficking in Matlack’s column, I will provide the information here. Unfortunately, I cannot be as regionally specific as Matlack because there is less information available about male victims of sex trafficking.

But I can start with some general information about human trafficking in the United States. According to a 2009 Houston Chonicle article:

According to the latest U.S. State Department report on human trafficking, some 45 percent of the 286 certified adult victims in fiscal year 2008 were male, a significant increase from the 6 percent certified in 2006.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which certifies victims of human trafficking, said the increase in the percentage of male victims is due mainly to an uptick in labor-trafficking cases. Seventy-six percent of all human-trafficking victims certified in 2008 were victims of labor trafficking, he said, while sex trafficking accounted for 17 percent. Five percent of victims were subject to both forms of trafficking.

Maritza Conde-Vazquez, a special agent with the Houston FBI who specializes in human-trafficking cases, said there has been an increase locally in the number of male human-trafficking victims, primarily from Central and South America. The majority of the cases, she said, involve forced labor at construction sites or in agriculture. She said she could not discuss details of the cases, which are still under investigation.

The article goes on to state that in 2006 the U.S. State Department reported that only 6 percent of human trafficking victims were males. By 2009 the number rose to 45 percent of the total victims. Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition, stated that the trafficking of male victims is underreported, so it is possible the rate is much higher.

In Central America, Casa Alianza, an organization dedicated to assisting abandoned children, found that 4 percent of a sample group of sex trafficking victims were boys:

Although women and girls are usually regarded as the “typical” victims of this type of abuse, research conducted by Casa Alianza in 20 Honduran cities found that, from a sample of 1,019 minors victims of sexual exploitation, 42 of them (4 per cent) were male. Amongst the victims that have been screened by Casa Alianza there are also a significant number of persons who either identify themselves as gay or transsexual.

The business of sexual exploitation in Central America At Casa Alianza Honduras, we have been able to document a clear link between migration of minors and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and CSE. Indeed, our experience shows that the majority of migrant boys and girls who travel alone are exploited sexually and many are vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. Young migrants are forced into these situations not only because of economic necessity but also, because traffickers, pimps and other intermediaries also coerce them into sexually exploitative situations. The exploiters of boys and male adolescents are most often middle aged men. These men search for boys in lodging establishments, bus stations, and fast-food restaurants, among other places and pay anywhere from 15 to 100 USD.

One of the many problems that renders male victims invisible is that abuse occurs secretly, making it difficult to document and track. Another problem is the lack of services and attention given to male victims. They have nowhere to go and no one to turn to, and since no one thinks boys can be victims, their abuse goes unnoticed.

Despite the underreporting and the general lack of government interest in male victims, there is information showing that men and boys are victims of multiple forms of human trafficking, including forced prostitution.

There are the bacha bereesh, the dancing boys, in Afghanistan who get kidnapped, raped, and traded amongst the warlords. There are boys abused abroad as part of sex tourism. There are also cases involving adult men trafficked for sex. A Canadian study found that sexually exploited boys were exploited at younger ages than girls, remained in their situation longer, and abused more and a greater variety of drugs. Most of them had a history of abuse, had run away, and had been involved at some point with child welfare services.

The short of this is that trafficking boys and men for sex is a more common than people think. It is probably not as common as labor trafficking, but it does occur with enough frequency to warrant addressing. It is unfortunate that Tom Matlack did not take the opportunity to ask about it in his interview. It is possible that it never crossed his mind to ask. If true, that is part of the problem.

The reason why people think boys and men are not victims of sex trafficking is because no one bothers to look for them. No one bothers to ask about them. No one bothers to reach out to them. And because no one reaches out to male victims, trafficked boys and men will not reach out for help. They live under the same threats that female victims do, and the only way to break fear’s grip on them is to offer them the acknowledgment and support they need to break free. If we continue to play gender politics with serious issues like human trafficking or sex slavery, we not only will not prevent the problem, we will tacitly endorse it when it gets done to the “other” victims.

52 thoughts on “Male victims of sex trafficking

  1. I think I would have never known anything about those boys in Afghanistan had I never read this blog.

  2. Schala, I noticed that as well. Later today I will write an email inquiring about that. Curiously, my comment asking about the mass deletion remains.

  3. I can’t find that article on the main page anymore. Maybe the mess just got too deep for them.

  4. The promise that we’re working to effectuate is actually the 13th Amendment promise that no one in the United States shall be subjected to involuntary servitude. It doesn’t matter whether that’s in a farm, in a brothel, or as a domestic servant. If somebody is being forced to work against their will, if they’re trapped, can’t get out, then that it is somebody who would be considered a victim of modern slavery.

    —Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department


    Thanks for posting this. What I find really funny, is if you apply the above statement to the current state of Divorce and the child support enforcement, wouldn’t that apply?

  5. TS:
    The article is still up. GMP has some wonky coding for their site, so sometimes posts will not load.
    Yeah its called selective moderation.

  6. TS: I just wanted to let you know that this blog entry is getting some traction today on Twitter with anti-trafficking organizations. Just an FYI.

  7. I left a comment at GMP along these same lines. I also mentioned that it’s a mistake to assume that only those who are “sex trafficked” are subjected to sexual coercion — another point that’s persistently overlooked.

    I hadn’t heard the stats suggesting boys are conscripted into sex work earlier or that they remain in it longer but it makes sense. Good to know!


  8. Good post. I agree there is little being done to assist male victims of trafficking and some reports (done by Rebecca Surtees) show that much of the assistance that is being provided to males does not take in consideration the gender and social roles of males. So my question to you and other bloggers is how can assistance be better tailored to meet the needs of males more appropriately?


  9. B, a good place to start to help male victims is by changing the policies so that police and immigration officials as men and boys about trafficking. Acknowledging some of the social norms about masculinity would also help. Many male victims do not consider themselves victims because that would socially make them less manly. Masculinity forms the core of many men’s identity, and support providers need to be aware of the importance of that. Another aspect that could help would be recognizing that men and boys do not always like to verbally express their pain. Pushing males to talk about it when they are not ready can be just as harmful as silencing them. I think the biggest thing would be to involve male survivors in the process. When I first got involved in advocacy, I was amazed by how many men, most of them much older than me, opened up because I spoke about my experiences. The presence of other men with a shared experience validates the feelings other men may have and may help them come forward and perhaps change their views about other men (assuming their abusers were male).

  10. Thank you so much TS
    I’m very pleased about coming across your blog, as I am currently helping a friend with a dissertation about the apathy behind issues regarding human trafficking as a whole. I believe the lack of attention given to the specific problem of male trafficking is part of that overall apathy.

    The general lack of attention towards male-related issues is quite a glaring stain on our world. It’s starting to erode society quite quickly…

    I’m based in South Africa, and I was shocked to find in my area, suicides are 5 times MORE in men than women! And it also has to do with us men, not being that forthcoming with our feelings.. Its a vicious cycle.

    Again, thank you for your work!

  11. Forgive me If I seem dense – but looking at the State Dept.Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2010 – The contents and the figures are mixed up and misleading. I know that the 2011 report is the first one to include any comments and content about the USA – but for 10 years the State Dept. have criticized so any other countries for what has been described as “failing to disaggregate data”. Some have taken that to indicate that the State Dept is implying Lying – as in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.

    The report says:

    “More U.S. citizens, both adult and children, are found in sex trafficking than labor trafficking; U.S. citizen child victims are often runaway and homeless youth.”

    There is no break down by age or gender – only child is used.

    The report admits that there is male child trafficking connected to the USA, and that trafficking is for sexual exploitation.

    ” Sex trafficking of foreign children included boys.”.

    That is quite something given that sexual abuse and use of males is so often not even admitted as existing. Maybe it’s only seen as a foreign issue and not a domestic one?

    Then we get;

    “Eighty-two percent of foreign adult victims were labor trafficking victims, of which 58 percent were men and 42 percent were women; 15 percent were adult sex trafficking victims, all of whom were women; and three percent were victims of both forms. Fifty-six percent of foreign child victims were labor trafficking victims, of which half were boys and half were girls; 38 percent were sex trafficking victims, of which 16 percent were boys; and six percent were victims of both forms”

    Nice percentages – but no actual figures. But we do get the ratio of Child sex trafficked victims being 16% percent boys and 22% girls which is almost parity and quite startling. So trafficked children have a 38% likelihood of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution and the gender ratio is almost equal at 1 to 1.375.

    There is great concern about foreign trafficked girls being forced to work in the sex industry – but it would appear there should be equal concern as to boys as well.

    “DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided funding to NGOs for victim assistance. …. HHS-funded outreach programs identified over 700 potential foreign trafficking victims in addition to more than 1,000 American citizens. It is unknown how many U.S. citizen victims were referred to law enforcement or received services. The majority of identified U.S. citizen victims were children found in prostitution.”

    Again the stats are not clear as to how many were children and what was the gender balance? There is not even records of what happened after individuals were identified – and where they went. Did they end up in a secure place with help, or did they end up back on the streets or held and used for more prostitution?

    “In 2009, DOJ funded three demonstration projects to provide comprehensive services to U.S. citizen child victims of labor or sex trafficking, …. It is not clear to what extent these programs identify and assist child trafficking victims among the children they serve though NGOs reported that these programs and agencies require training to better identify and work with trafficking victims.”

    So there are only demonstration projects in place – and they are recognized as needing training to better identify child trafficking victims? That is of concern given already known gender bias from organizations concerning children who have been abused sexually. Do they need training to know that Boys also get sexually abused and trafficked for prostitution, and that they can be domestic or imported? Do they need training in the risk factors of abuse-sexual exploitation and how vulnerable such people are to grooming and extended control by a pimp?

    “It is not clear to what extent these programs identify and assist child trafficking victims among the children they serve though NGOs reported that these programs and agencies require training to better identify and work with trafficking victims. During the year, DOJ and HHS examined more coordinated, systemic ways to protect citizen victims and ensure that all victims are offered services and protection, whether foreign nationals or U.S. citizens.”

    Well it seems that someone is recognizing that some work has to be done, and that there may need to be action for all victims, independent of nationality!

    “The TVPA mandates that victims not be inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The prostitution of children has traditionally been handled as a vice crime or a juvenile justice issue and the anti-trafficking approach of the TVPA has been slow to fully permeate the state child protection and juvenile justice systems. In 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, 206 males and 643 females under 18 years of age were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as having been arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice.”

    So there is a slow permeation of Federal and Statutory obligations. The FBI seem to have some figures for child prostitution, but only because the child was arrested as a criminal. The figures are interesting showing a 1 to 3 sex ration male to female.

    Odd thing is – It’s illegal to criminalize a child who “may” have been subjected to trafficking or forced prostitution. So are the figures for all children, or just those who were free agents, un-trafficked and working alone?

    The problem is that the data is not “disaggregated” to identify Trafficking with in or into the USA, if trafficking has occurred at all, and how many of the children were subjected to forced prostitution.

    There is also a likelihood that even that glimpse of some actual figures will vanish in future, due to “The TVPA mandates that victims not be inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”. It’s also mandated that trafficking or coercion only needs to be suspected and it does not need to be proved. It would seem that the FBI figures were about finding Law Enforcement agencies breaking the law, not identifying victims.

    So after 10 years of the State Dept criticizing so many countries for failing to disaggregate data – and the first time that the State Dept decided to include the USA in the annual TIP report – the basic figures and data on child trafficking and forced prostitution by gender and country of origin simply are not there.

    After 10 years of preaching you would think that The Secretary Of State would have done better with the home work! I understand that she has been personally interested in the issue, and see it all as of great importance since She was the First lady, some 18 years or so in total.

    The report also says:

    “Recommendations for the United States: Improve law enforcement data collection on human trafficking cases at the state and local level; ”

    Maybe the report for 2012 will add the word “Urgently”?

  12. Good article, TS.

    So others are getting censored off GMP too, eh?
    I sent my final comment to GMP and how they are “trying to open up a conversation” by heavily censoring comments they don’t like. It’s bizarre. I think it’s just too ideological for me to participate at all. ANd it’s sad: there’s ample research I can cite about male victimization, etc, it’s not about “the facts”. It’s just people trying to force a particular falsehood on people.

    You might find this interesting:

    I talked to some people who work with homeless youth here in Minnesota at they were excited I was talking about male victims. Several people excitedly talked to me about boys who couldn’t get help because they felt no one would believe them, no services, etc. Various forces keep it silent but, like the researchers above found out–just go out and ask kids and you’ll find them.

  13. “So others are getting censored off GMP too, eh?”

    Not so much censored as having every word pre-moderated! It is an interesting pattern.

    But I have noted that come comments have vanished too!

    There seem to be two patterns – pre-mod and post-mod at work.

  14. Allan, this post was from earlier this year. I wrote it in response to GMP removing all the comments that mentioned male victims, whether they were critical of the original article or not. It is a rather shameful aspect of the discussion because that point would have been a good time for someone from GMP to ask a professional about male victims of sex trafficking or invite someone to write about it. That never happened, in the much the same way that GMP never included any male victims’ stories in their section about sexual violence.

    As for the article you linked to, I read the study this morning. I just need a couple of hours to sit down and write about it, which I have not had yet.

  15. Not so much censored as having every word pre-moderated! It is an interesting pattern.

    It depends. I have had several of my comments go into moderation, but I have not been able to see any pattern. I initially thought it was linked to certain words, but that does not seem to apply in all cases.

  16. Oh I have seen patterns!

    It’s worth remembering the site uses the full wordpress Content Management System on private servers and that is different to the public wordpress system used here.

    When contributer accounts are set up it allows for contributor account holder as well as the site management to moderate comments on and off the thread at any time. I suspect that there has been some pruning once focus has moved away. I have seen it before when some have not welcomed inconvenient truths – they just vanish when no one is supposedly looking. It’s also hard to track as comments are not being indexed by google and other search providers. You have to go and look – and have a full record of what has been there before to carry out a comparison.

    Oh and it is possible to selectively pre-moderate on content too – certain words, hyper-links, and it can even be set up with different filtering regimes for specific areas and contributors on the site. There are many ways to control content dynamically. It even checks automatically for double posts!

  17. Oh and it is possible to selectively pre-moderate on content too – certain words, hyper-links, and it can even be set up with different filtering regimes for specific areas and contributors on the site. There are many ways to control content dynamically. It even checks automatically for double posts!

    That is what I meant. It does not appear to be specific words or hyperlinks, but directed at certain people and even then at random. On my own article there several of my comments went into moderation, two of which did not use anything I could construe as key words such as “abuse”, “male victims”, or so on. It appeared to be based on the length of the comment… until I submitted another short comment that went into moderation. I am aware that the full version WordPress gives far more control, but the moderation on GMP seems specific to each article.

  18. Hey, female sex traffickers are treated worse, like whores or sluts, especially if they traffic men their age or older. Any man they sell as a prostitute will punch them around, rape them back, or even kill them. In other words, women who treat men like sex objects face hostile sexism compared to women who don’t. It happens when women travel abroad and do that to men as well, especially in highly patriarchal societies where it’s considered unfeminine for women to be sexually aggressive and assertive towards men while men are supposed to be the pursuers.

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  20. You really are naive as hell! Men are beaten too in rapes! So are boys! How do you think sexual human trafficking happens? It’s a hellish underworld and the media feeds off of dupes like you who want to believe women are “treated worse” when woman AND men are treated like chattel trash! Beaten, raped tortured, murdered! And WTH does women not being scene as feminie for being sexual aggressive got to do with male victims????? That where you WRONG anyway! Many programs on TV promotion female sexual aggression! Youre either a naive dupe OR a male who is a traumautized sex abuse victim using the age aold sterotypes in women to wash away your hurt!

  21. Pingback: Male Human Trafficking Victims « stoptheslavery

  22. Thank you for this, author. It’s sad to see people argue about which gender is treated worse in this cruel modern slavery. Truthfully, both are treated as less than human, and it unsettles me to know I am alive while this is happening.

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  26. I think this is a horrific happening in our society today. It’s true even I failed to realize that even men and boys are affected. The statistics listed on this website are shocking-others should be aware of the number of males affected by human trafficking. We truly live in a cruel world, God have mercy on these poor souls.

  27. Funny thing about it is when women commit these crimes, they get stigmatized more often than men in the same manner.

  28. Being a sexual slavery survivor when I was 8-10 years old, as well as being male, I can attest to the lack of support and help out there. Even non-governmental organizations are I’ll equipped to handle male victims. And we suffer the same abuses as female victims do. I experienced gang rape and emotional and physical torture. We as survivors suffer greatly by society’s lack of acknowledgement and support.

    Thank you for this post and for bringing this issue to the people. Thank you!

  29. @LR Are you seriously trying to derail because female sex Traffickers aren’t treated nicely? Fuck off. Do not attack other commenters – TS

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  33. MEDIAHOUND! i would like to ask you a question regarding the stats. You said a few stats in a toy soldier blog about percentage of boys to girls. I checked the trafficking in persons report but i cant find those stats anywhere. If anybody is reading can u help me find percentage of stats between girls and boys in the trafficking in humans report plz and thank you!

  34. I LOVE this post. I am a woman and work with FEMALE trafficking victims, but I see A LOT of young boys being exploited as well, and they are exposed to more health problems, more violence, more drug use, and more identity issues than girls, because of the taboo subject. Here in Mexico City (where I work) there is NO services at all for these boys. I am really glad that you are raising awareness. People really don’t understand it or realize it’s affect. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Keep up the good work, raise awareness, and hopefully people will be inspired to help!

  35. I would like to introduce myself.

    Hello, my name is Yohaldy “Yoyo” Almonte (pronounced Jojo).

    I am the Survivor Mentor for Surviving Our Struggle (SOS), a program at Boston G.L.A.S.S. (Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services). This new program works with male adolescents, young men, trans M to F youth, and trans F to M youth ages 13-29 who have a history of Commercial Sexual Exploitation. This includes runaway and throwaway youth along with individuals identifying and engaging in sex work, hustling, escorting, etc.

    The Survivor Mentor position was originally developed out of My Life My Choice (MLMC), which is a sexual exploitation prevention program for young women and girls who are survivors of human trafficking or are in the “Life.” MLMC realized that not only young women and girls but also young men, boys, and transgender youth are in the “Life”, so it was decided to open a slot for the previously excluded individuals who are doing survival sex work. The need for survivor mentors for male and transgender individuals was so great that the single position has expanded into an entire program, Surviving Our Struggle. Our duty is to target the youth through the Internet (Backpage, Facebook, Twitter, Rentboy, Craigslist, Adam4Adam, Manhunt, and many more). We have noticed some of the youth in their transition out of the “Life.” We have noticed some of the youth are being transported nationwide. Some of the young men (boys) are GoGo dancers. The club owners are using the young men for parties, where the boys are being sexually exploited and turned on to drug use.

    Here at Boston GLASS we also have many other services for LGBTQ youth. We use a harm reduction model to provide counseling and testing, case management (homelessness and prevention and basic needs assistance), as well as outreach to outside organizations to promote support services. We also have two licensed Clinical Social Workers on site.

    I also would like to know, what’s being done, so this innsanity stops? Is anyone doing something about it? Are people/provider speaking about this, so it could be heard and us boys could be visible?

  36. Hello, Yohaldy.

    I do not know of any major organizations addressing the sexual exploitation of males in general, let alone to a specific identity group. The majority of the available services focus only on girls and women, and I assume they also limit their services to heterosexual girls and women. There are, however, people aware of the issue. The John Jay College of New York conducted a study concerning the commercial sexual exploitation of youths and found that half of the victims are boys and sizable portion are transgender. Others have acknowledged the study’s findings, but again, I do not know if anything has actually been done to address the issue.

    As noted in the article about the John Jay College study, there is some backlash against anyone mentioning male victims of sexual exploitation, and a lack of any desire to help those boys. This is not limited to the United States. The United Nations is well aware of the institutional rape of boys in Afghanistan, a practice called “the dancing boys,” yet neither the U.N. or any human rights groups have stepped in to deal with the problem. I am not entirely certain that the U.N. even recognizes boys as potential victims of sexual violence, let alone sex trafficking.

    That said, there are several organizations that specifically reach out to male survivors in general. Male Survivor and 1 in 6 are two that come to mind. They provide some services to male survivors, and 1 in 6 is currently expanding its outreach to Canada.

  37. Hello.

    I so totally hear where you come from. As I a Survivor Mentor for Sexually Exploited young men, boys,trans M-F, & trans F-M, I personally believe that we here at Boston Gay & Lesbian Adolecents Social Services part of Justice Resource Institute, are the only non-profit organization that address this issue. Is sa and trans youth yet nothing is being done. I’m so thankful, that we have this here now, and providers are noticing and the words is being put out more and more.

    I do know, about “the dancing boys” also seen a documentary on netflix about it. I have never know this was happening in Afghanistan and around those areas. Hopefully something gets done sooner then later.

    I do know about Male Survivors, yet never heard of 1 in 6. I would look more into this, also into, The John Jay College of New York.

    This has been extremely helpful. I’m also looking into other articles, as I’m looking into mine as well. Renee Loth wrote an article around my story in ‘The Life’ and the services we provide here. I will share, in the next post. If there’s any question regarding anything, feel free to contact me at

  38. Thank you for trying to help children, adolesents, youths and adults. I also want to bring light to the horrific smut films with murder being sold to pedophiles all iver the world. Please do help thr trapped children and adults who are being killed for this insanity. Please ban non consent sex and murder of powerless children and adults.

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  41. Thank you for writing this article and raising the conversation. It is now 2016. Pediatric & adolescent males are still being sexually exploited, and still have few places to go to safely disclose their stories or secure safe housing, medical care, support & counseling services, legal counsel and representation that serve their best interests.

    A major achievement today has been the recent campaign in partnership with NO MORE, which has spread greater awareness: 21 million adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse are currently living in the USA. This work creates a context; one that may perhaps reduce the challenges with which survivors and advocates are confronted, when attempting to raise awareness that sexually exploited young males do exist and in seeking to secure an appropriate response and services.

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