By Nelli Agbulos, guest blogger.
While the above photo does not pertain to male trafficking, the reaction a male trafficking victim would get would be the same if someone knew a man had been raped. Males are typically perceived to be the “bad guy” “predator” “pimp” and “perpetrator” in the crime-scene world, and they are rarely recognized as victims. This has much to do with the gender construction in society.
According to the Polaris Project, the average age of entry into prostitution for boys is 11 to 13 years old. That age range has them considered as children, and about 50% of child sex trafficking victims are boys. They go from a path of poverty to prostitution to human trafficking. Lack of publicity and advocacy makes male sex trafficking attractive to criminal networks, to fill the demand and pages of pornography magazines.
Male victims of human trafficking are typically runaways or those who were thrown out of their homes. Many experience high rates of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse from family members, and that makes boys more vulnerable and susceptible to drugs and alcohol. In turn, drugs and alcohol becomes those boys’ coping mechanisms, which incidentally become one of the reasons they get sexually exploited so that they can fund their alcohol and drug supply. Seeking love is another reason runaway/homeless boys turn to sexual exploitation, to fill the longing and care not mutually given in previous experiences. Boys are often recruited by friends and peers, though some are known to have pimps (who keep most of their earnings).
Boys are not considered a “high risk group” to be included in research, outreach, and rehabilitation services for human trafficking. Male trafficking victims only get attention if the news breaks out as a local or national scandal – and again, this rarely happens. There is gender construction in being a victim, and that is attributed to the ideals of masculinity held by the general public. Since boys aren’t perceived to be victims, they aren’t encouraged to speak out when something happens; they are shunned because of the belief they are “stronger”, more self-efficient, and are capable of taking better care of themselves. These qualities of masculinity have become normalized to the point that they pressure men with unrealistic expectations. Men become afraid to speak up because of the shame and embarrassment associated with what happened to them. Even law enforcement officials have been known to doubt male victims. An ECPAT study revealed that boys are reluctant to declare themselves as victims or report incidents of exploitation to avoid the potential stigma associated with being viewed as gay. Undeniably, men are put under the cloak of invisibility regarding topics on male sexual exploitation (such as male rape, domestic violence, and human trafficking) that has them as victims.
I’m not saying female human trafficking should be held in any less regard to male trafficking. There is still so much to be done to combat female trafficking and its equally nuanced layers. However, an alarming statistic produced by the United States State Department reports that between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of adult trafficking male victims jumped from 6% to 45%. If that 39% increase isn’t a cause for concern, then maybe this issue is being blown out of proportion. Human trafficking is as an issue that happens to both genders. Men are just as affected by human trafficking and require the same attention as females.