And Boys Too…

On July 23, 2013, by Sarah Lachman

What do you picture when you hear “human trafficking victim?” For the majority of us, we see a young girl, probably weak and fragile, maybe from a foreign country. We often forget that young boys are often victims of the same tragedy. A recent study from ECPAT-USA looked at the boys who become victims of sex trading. ( By interviewing service providers who work with exploited youth, they explored if the problem exists, what makes them vulnerable to exploitation, who exploits them, when it starts, and what are the needs and services of this group of young boys.

With limited research already available, it is difficult to know just how prominent the problem of male trafficking is. Very few female victims are reported each year compared to the actual number of cases, and males are reported even less. Often it is the fault of the law enforcement officer and the perception of boys being strong and able to avoid this type of situation. There is also shame associated with a boy being a victim of trafficking, and the victim may be worried of the stigma associated with his situation.

Vulnerability in boys showed similar trends to vulnerability in girls. Many are runaway or “throwaway” children introduced into the trade to meet their basic survival. Others begin in the industry to support a pre-existing drug habit or a habit forced upon them from their traffickers. Those pimping boys are not often referred to as pimps but as “market facilitators” finding work for the boys. The research showed that boys are often introduced into the trade slightly earlier than girls. The average age is between 11-13 for boys and 12-14 for girls.

When considering boys as trafficking victims there is often an assumption that the boys are homosexual. However, the majority of boys identify as heterosexual or as not knowing their sexuality. Homosexual boys introduced into the sex trade have a different experience than heterosexual boys. Many end up in the streets because they were kicked out of their home for being homosexual. One boy said he entered sex trading on his journey looking for true love. This population of victims needs to have individual research conducted to really understand their vulnerabilities.

Boys being trafficked are present throughout the United States. On the west coast, the population is mostly Hispanic, in the mid-west Caucasian, and on the east coast the majority are African American. They suffer from hardships resulting from the industry such as STI’s, physical injuries from abuse, depression, and even suicide. But there are not as many resources available to boys as there are to girls in similar situations.

Many boys are not able to access the same services because they are not referred to them. Law enforcement officials find boys and do not see them as victims. A common thought is that they are boys so they could get away if they want to because boys are strong and girls are weak. However, this is not the case. Boys suffer from the same treatment as young girls, with threats of abuse and possible death if they try to escape. Another limitation to the services offered to boys is that the boys themselves sometimes do not refer to themselves as victims. Some identify as hustlers to cover the shame associated with being trafficked. By not being reported male trafficking victims are not referred to services and there are also fewer services available to them.

What could serve to help these boys is more education on the problem. Training should be given particularly to law enforcement officials, so that they know how to identify male victims as well as female victims and refer them to appropriate services. Additionally, not all services are currently available to boys, such as shelters. There will need to be more available for boys as well as girls who are victims. In order for more services to be available, there needs to be more research done on the topic. With more research, the need will be better assessed to determine the need.

One Response to And Boys Too…

  1. Rachel says:

    No one wants to pay for the research or for safe shelters for boys that serve the boys’ best interests. Boys often feel it is not even safe enough for them to tell their stories.

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