Human Trafficking Victims Include Boys and Men, Too
Who comes to mind when you think of “human trafficking victims”? Most people probably envision a girl or woman forced into the sex trade, not a young boy forced to steal or a desperate father doomed to forced labor to feed his family. Unfortunately, the narrative of human trafficking often only encapsulates one type of survivor: one of sex trafficking, typically a female.
That narrative is, in part, supported by statistics. The reality is that girls and women account for the majority of sex trafficking victims. However, boys and men are also victims of human trafficking despite that data. The forms of human trafficking that exploit boys and men include forced labor and sex trafficking.
Numbers on the trafficking of males are challenging to estimate and considered underreported; however, the United Nations estimates that boys account for 15% of global trafficking victims, and adult men account for 20%.
Barriers Faced By Male Trafficking Victims
Male human trafficking is underreported due to several barriers.
Myths About Males and Sex Trafficking
There is a myth that male trafficking victims are automatically labor trafficking victims. In conversations and news stories around sex trafficking, females are almost always described as victims, while males are the perpetrators. While that is often the case, men and boys are victims of sex trafficking, too.
Males As Victims
Another barrier is the sexism surrounding the issue. There’s a common misconception that males cannot be victims. Boys and men don’t fit the popular script of who is and isn’t a victim of trafficking. The media often depicts males as aggressive, violent, dominating, and sexual in the media. As a result, there are rarely movies or news stories portraying the rescue of male survivors.
Males and Sexual Exploitation
In addition, a dangerous myth persists around sex trafficking and boys: that adolescent boys who an adult exploits are somehow “lucky” to get the sex that every young male supposedly craves. However, commercial exploitation and sexual abuse are equally traumatizing for males and females. Their pain is just as devastating. So there’s nothing lucky about it.
Male Social Conditioning
In many cultures, males tend to be discouraged from displaying emotions or vulnerability because those attributes are considered weak and feminine. As a result, many young males receive messages, including “men don’t cry” or “be a man,” when dealing with vulnerability, emotions, and pain.
Such social conditioning can lead to male victims’ machismo belief that they should have been man enough to stop the trafficking and abuse from occurring, even if they were a child or teens at the time. Unfortunately, these stereotypes create barriers for male victims to disclose their exploitation because they feel it compromises their sense of manhood.
While the reluctance to speak up is understandable, it causes damaging consequences. The result is that tens of thousands of boys and men continue to suffer in silence and victims feel even more isolated. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations are reluctant to provide services for an invisible population. In addition, law enforcement, teachers, and others in regular contact with youth don’t receive training in how to identify and help male victims.
Law Enforcement and Male Human Trafficking
Male trafficking survivors report that there is little understanding of boys and men being trafficked, especially when it comes to sexual exploitation. Anecdotal accounts share that when filing human trafficking reports, law enforcement would question why they couldn’t escape: “Why couldn’t he get away? He’s a boy.” Other survivors explain that they’ve had to teach law enforcement that boys and young men can be bought and sold just like girls.
Focusing on Justice for All Trafficked Victims
Like all victims of the abuse that is trafficking, males who are trafficked are at greater risk of depression, suicide, and chronic diseases. In addition, they’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and land in prison. Boys and men who have been trafficked experienced the same vulnerabilities as women and girls: income, housing and job insecurities, abuse, and domestic violence.
Every survivor — man, woman, male, female, boy, girl — is a victim, and they all deserve support to heal. To reduce human trafficking, we have to acknowledge that it can happen to anyone.
Everyone Can Help Fight Human Trafficking
No matter how small, every effort can make a difference in the fight against human trafficking. The generosity of our supporters has helped us provide a safe life for young people once trapped in a life of human slavery and provide shelter, food, and medical care for those in need. Every donation helps deliver hope!
Together, we can change and save lives.