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.