By Ashlie Bailey
When someone tries to picture what human trafficking looks like they typically envision women and children trapped in sexual slavery. While many victims of human trafficking especially domestic sex trafficking fit this image, this stereotype is only half of the picture. Half of all sex trafficking victims are male. Globally labor trafficking is even more common than sex trafficking. It is estimated that there are more males affected by labor trafficking globally than there are females trafficked for labor.
If there are that many trafficked males out there than why doesn't the awareness movement reflect the truth of their existence. When I first tried to title this article I was going to call it the forgotten survivors of human trafficking. Then I realized that referring to these boys and men as survivors doesn't fit because a huge number of the never survive their trafficking experience. I believe it is because of violence that so few male survivors live to tell their story. Even males who do survive their trafficking experience, are reluctant to publicly come forward because of fear of violence.
One of the other reasons males are reluctant to report their trafficking experience is because of the shame, secrecy, and stigma. Males are more likely than females to blame themselves for the abuse and exploitation that they lived through. In countries like the United States, it is far easier for women and girls to find support and recovery from the abuse they have suffered than it is for men and boys to find a nonjudgmental support team.
Few people are aware that males are even affected by trafficking and abuse. When someone becomes aware that this issue also affects males; their typical response is to blame the victim. When someone thinks of an abused woman it is easy to understand how she could be physically overpowered by her abuser. Because of stereotypes such as this male victims are blamed for the crimes committed against them more often than female victims are blamed for the crimes committed against them.
People imagine trafficking victims as being held by physical force. Traffickers do use physical force but more often they resort to other tactics. They use coercion and psychological control. Even if a male trafficking victim is physically stronger than their trafficker, escape still may be difficult for other reasons. These reasons are why male victims blame themselves.
Even the trafficked males themselves may not be aware of how common it is for this issue to affect boys and men. They don’t know that there are others who have gone through the same thing that they went through. They feel that they are alone in this fight. Society blames them for the abuse and they blame themselves. Everywhere they turn there is judgment. They feel a deep sense of shame, and societies view of masculinity adds to the shame. They feel that if they were strong or masculine enough than they wouldn't have been exploited. They think this happened because there is something wrong with them. All of this judgment and shame gives them more reason to keep their trafficking experience and abuse a secret.
People wonder why someone would want to become a trafficker. In the same way that a little girl does not dream of becoming a prostitute when she grows up; little boys do not dream of becoming a trafficker. I know a secret about traffickers that most people aren't aware of. In my trafficking experience, I observed a pattern. In the underground trafficking ring that I grew up in the vast majority of the other victims were boys. What is surprising to most is that a lot of the male traffickers in that ring started out as trafficked little boys. The ring recruited a lot of their traffickers by offering the young victims what they thought was their only chance of freedom. For boys, they were given a choice of traffic or continue to be trafficked. It turned out it wasn't really a choice at all. Those boys became traffickers because they were forced into it. No recovery program for men forced into this kind of situation exists. If we as a society are going to stop trafficking in all its forms then we need more than just recovery for the victims. We need to also offer some kind help for pimps and traffickers.
When problems like this are so well hidden it is almost impossible to solve them. That is why one of the first steps to helping trafficked males is awareness. Once this problem is exposed, society will have no choice but to find a way to solve it. Awareness is important but the solution doesn't end there. Awareness will only make a difference if it inspires us into action.
For more information on the solution read part two of this post The Forgotten Victims of Human Trafficking Part Two The Solution>