Sexual violence against men and boys is a topic that is seldom discussed. Often we hear victims are women and children, and we assume that the children are girls and that males are the primary perpetrator. At Restore One, we seek to serve a population that is often unspoken for, sex trafficked and sexually exploited boys. The phrase, sex trafficked children, does not specify an exact gender or ethnic population. However, folks are always very surprised to hear that boys are sex trafficked and sexually exploited just like girls. You may ask, how are boys sold and where and who buys them?
The sexual exploitation of boys remains hidden. I’d go as far as to say it is an even more hushed crime than female sex trafficking. It is an immense moneymaker for those governing the trade. The buying and selling of boys for the purposes of sex are found throughout the United States both in the ritziest neighborhoods and poorest districts of the city. The research study The Commercial Exploitation of Children in New York City in 2008 estimates that as much as 50% of commercial sexually exploited children are males.
Regardless of the location or by which means the deed is done, one link remains true to every story I’ve witnessed or heard, the sexual violence against boys is directly linked to powerfully exploiting the powerless. While money is the blatant fuel behind the sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of boys, the cycle of powerlessness is what leaves boys vulnerable to violence. To explain the cycle of powerlessness in relationship to the sex trafficking and exploitation of boys, I created the story of Paul. Paul was inspired by my countless interactions with male survivors and the honor it’s been for me to hear their many stories. Thus, The story of Paul.
Paul is a teenage boy with a jaded history of sexual abuse, foster care, low self-esteem and parent maltreatment. He had no part in the choices that his parents, the state and others have made on his behalf that have caused him much harm and heartache at a young age of 15. Life has left him vulnerable and powerless. In the mist of his despair, he is sought out by a pimp and recruited into the life.
The men he is forced to service are men in power, patrol cops, wealthy business owners, a college football coach, politicians and even pastors. His pimp is part of a large criminal ring, and they traffick boys and girls in every state. If Paul were to run, he’d never really get out because they would find him and welcome him with a beating. His pimp tells him that since he’s had sex with men, he’s not good for nothing but turning tricks.
One night during a large undercover rescue operation, Paul was found along with other children who’ve been sex trafficked. When the agents see Paul they are stunned. When he was first interviewed, they were testing him to see if he was a trafficker but after some probing they saw that he was a victim. Determining this though was not much help because there were no services specifically for boys who’ve been sex trafficked. Law enforcement did their best and referred him to the Department of Social Services, and he was then placed in a foster care home. Within a few weeks Paul is groped by one of the older kids in the home and he immediately remembered the words of his pimp, “You ain’t good for nothing but turning tricks.”
In a state of frustration, Paul believed the haunting words of his pimp, ran away and went back into the life.
Unfortunately Paul is the story of many boys. Boys find when seeking services or wanting out of the life that their power is rendered and immobilized when service care providers refuse to provide proper services due to gender. With no services specific to meet their fragile needs, there is little hope for boys to exit the life. A victim of violence again is left powerless and the cycle continues.
I’ve had countless conversations with community members advising me to focus on women and girls and that the community is not ready to deal with sex trafficked boys. When it comes to the topic of male victimization, our culture demands we look the other way. Direct services for victims of sexual violence are harshly female centered with few gateways for males. The Department of State claims that the often hidden crime of sex trafficking boys remains under wraps largely due to the cultural climate and taboos around the practice. I’ve found that the majority of Americans want to believe two things about the sex trafficking of men and boys: 1) Men and boys always have the power to get out, therefore they are not considered victims; 2) Men and boys are not in need of the same victim services that are offered to women and girls. However, I believe with an able body and willing heart, the story of Paul can change and so can these taboos around the trafficking of males. Males, who are victims of sexual violence such as sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, need you to advocate on their behalf by being a voice. I charge you to speak up and to do your part to begin addressing the gap in victim services for males within your own community. Remember, the cycle of powerlessness can end with just your voice.
This blog is dedicated to the work of IJM and the Locust Effect. Thank you IJM for reaching out to us and including us in this initiative.