When the conversation surrounding sex trafficking stops at testimonials and statistics regarding females, we are regretfully silencing the experience of up to 50% of sex trafficking victims—males. This widely understood, limited view must change. Thankfully, it is changing. And with linked arms, organizations and the public alike can change not only this narrative, but also the lives of countless male survivors whose stories are real and heavy, but certainly not hopeless.
Definition of Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion,” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). This definition is large, so let’s practicalize it some.
Sex trafficking does not always adhere to the plot line of movies where victims are stolen and sold to buyers for the purpose of sex. Often, it is much more inconspicuous. Sex trafficking can, and does, look like:
- An unsettling “romantic” relationship, often referred to as the “Romeo pimp”
- A family member exploiting their vulnerable relative
- An unsafe foster care placement
- A false, twisted promise of help with immigration or work
- The exchange of sex for shelter, food, clothes, and other necessities, often termed “survival sex”
- Virtual exploitation via social media and other platforms, sometimes facilitated by the victim without involvement by a third person or “pimp”
- A gradual, yet steady, breakdown of social connections that would otherwise prevent exploitation, aka grooming
What it means to be a “man”
The problem of shame and expectations of what it means to be a “man” makes it that much harder for male victims to self-identify and ask for help. Culture’s perception of males choosing to be exploited deepens this shame and furthers their silence (WestCoast Children’s Clinic, 2019). Furthermore, the pressure to not show emotion or weakness writes the script that leads males to silently store their trauma rather than process it. By no means is this silent-shame experience exclusive to males, but it does uniquely affect male victims in a way that furthers their vulnerability to the cycle of sexual exploitation.
If this was not problematic enough, while research shows few differences between the risk factors for males and females, it also shows that males and their non-gender conforming peers have a much harder time being believed and thus connected to resources to stop the cycle of exploitation (And Boys Too, 2020). At Bob’s House of Hope, we are told consistently by male sex trafficking survivors that “no one ever believes me,” and “I have no place to go.” This vulnerability is not the fault of the survivor, and as organizations and the public become more educated and equipped, we can step into this vulnerability with care and safety.
It can be overwhelming hearing about such a large problem without helpful resources that continue to educate on prevention, identification, and action. Below are a few great places to start.
- https://www.acf.hhs.gov/otip/fact-sheet/resource/fshumantrafficking (Fact Sheet)
- https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/indicators-human-trafficking (Identifying Signs of Trafficking)
- https://www.acf.hhs.gov/blog/2023/02/teen-dating-violence-can-lead-human-trafficking-healthy-relationships-can-prevent-both (One of Many Preventative Factors)
- https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fysb/acf_issuebrief_htprevention_10202020_final_508.pdf (More Prevention)
- https://www.westcoastcc.org/westcoast-research-studies-exploitation-and-gender/ (More Information on Male and NGC Survivors)
- https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/identify-victim (Action Steps)
- https://ranchhandsrescue.org/bobs-house-of-hope/ (More Information About Bob’s House of Hope)
What can be done, then? If there is ever any suspicion of sex trafficking, don’t stay silent. If you see something, say something. Make the call to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888. As the first safe house in the country for adult male survivors, Bob’s House of Hope is addressing the problem of males being sex trafficked. Reach out to Bob’s House of Hope, 940-228-2742. Seek direction from your local law enforcement. The fight to end sex trafficking and walk alongside survivors towards healing cannot be accomplished by one person or one organization. Together is our best approach.
For the referral of a survivor to our program, please email email@example.com. You or a survivor may also call our Bob’s House of Hope intake line at 940-228-2742, ext. 2.
Luke Sorrell, B.A.
O: (940)-240-0500 ext. 5 and 2