Human Trafficking Center

Human trafficking: What about the men and boys?

via Creative Commons


Sep 14



by Ashley Greve, Associate Director of Advocacy

If “male prostitute” is an uncommonly heard term, then “male sex trafficking victim” is rarer still. If you looked at the early literature, legislation and media coverage of sex trafficking, it would appear that the commercial sexual exploitation of men and boys is a relatively new concept, something that did not exist until recent years. In reality, men and boys are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in many countries around the world, and they even outnumber female victims within certain subcategories of trafficking. To ignore these facts is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous – it has led to the oblivious abandonment of tens of thousands of victims.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000—the legal impetus behind the counter-trafficking movement in the United States—is actually split into three divisions, one devoted entirely to the Violence Against Women Act. It is an apropos attachment to a document declaring that “At least 700,000 persons annually, primarily women and children, are trafficked within or across international borders. Approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.” It goes on to state, “Many of these persons are trafficked into the international sex trade, often by force, fraud, or coercion…It involves sexual exploitation of persons, predominantly women and girls, involving activities related to prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and other commercial sexual services” (emphases all mine).

While it is indisputable that the vast majority of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation are female (likely around 98 percent, according to the International Labour Organization), it is not true that women and girls constitute the vast majority of all human trafficking victims globally. The same source approximates that 42 percent of victims of state-imposed labor exploitation are male. That number increases to 60 percent when considering labor exploitation in private economies. When you add sex trafficking data, this does mean that more of the nearly 21 million victims worldwide are female than male. Nevertheless, the difference is not so disparate as to merit neglecting the men and boys involved.

And what about that 2 percent of victims of commercial sexual exploitation that is male? Are these 400,000 men and boys being overlooked? As awareness of male victimization has increased, so has recognition of the plight of individual male victims. Early versions of the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Reports—which are undoubtedly some of the most comprehensive sources of country-specific human trafficking information—have very few references to male victims of sex trafficking. In 2007, Japan, Malta and Slovenia acknowledged the existence of the problem. In contrast, the latest report (2014) contains references to this phenomenon in the narratives for Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, El Salvador, Eritrea, France, Ghana, Iceland, Israel, Kenya, the Philippines and Qatar. It is likely happening in many more countries, but expectations of who constitutes a trafficking victim, as well as culturally reinforced ideas of who can be victimized, prevent further reports of male sex trafficking from being made or taken seriously.

If a single victim is one victim too many, then human trafficking experts, first responders and service providers must first be aware of the very real exploitation of men and boys in human trafficking—both for labor and for commercial sexual purposes. They must learn to devote equal attention to all genders when screening potential victims and to provide appropriate and sufficient services for all those who are victimized, not merely those who fit a stereotypical description of a victim/survivor of human trafficking.

The mainstream media and well-intentioned but misinformed or inadequately trained professionals within the counter-trafficking movement have perpetuated the image of a young, foreign, female victim. Just as it is easier to believe that a foreigner is a victim of trafficking than a U.S.-born citizen because it helps to externalize the danger onto a separate population, it may also be easier to believe that only the “weaker sex” is victimized. This notion is wrong and it is harmful. While women and girls obviously deserve protection, correcting false perceptions is the first step toward ensuring that boys—and yes, men—are also safe.

9 Responses to “Human trafficking: What about the men and boys?”

  1. Film Review: Sold – rex.hamaker

    […] trafficking, coverage of female sex trafficking often comes at the expense of labor as well as men and boys. This also assumes there is a clear divide between labor and sexual exploitation andmakes […]

  2. Is the Media Helping or Harming Anti-Trafficking Efforts? | Human Trafficking Center

    […] for forced labor is actually more prevalent than sex trafficking. And even within sex trafficking, men and boys are exploited, albeit in smaller numbers. While sex trafficking is an important problem to combat, it shouldn’t […]

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    […] – should be eligible for assistance. One important implication of this principle is that men and boys – frequently overlooked by service providers for victim-survivors of sex trafficking – should also receive […]

  4. Jerome Elam

    For seven long years I was trapped in a hell no one deserves. I was nothing more than a shell of a human being enduring suffering and torture at the hands of psychopaths and sociopaths as the world looked on. I attended school, and from the outside appeared to be a “normal child” but I was being trafficked in plain sight. I was often pulled out of school to “service” clients and after school, holidays and weekends were all just a never-ending nightmare for me. All of the signs were there but no one cared enough to look or had the training or education to realize my bruises and lengthy illnesses were all red flags for a child suffering endless abuse.

    The story of one. Trafficked Boys: Vandalized innocence hidden in plain sight

  5. September Human Trafficking News - Human Trafficking CenterHuman Trafficking Center

    […] Director of Advocacy Ashley Greve blogged about the need to recognize the prevalence of trafficking of men and boys, even within the commercial sex industry. Ashley discusses that at present, there are over 400,000 […]

  6. Christopher Anderson

    Ms. Greve,

    While I wholeheartedly applaud and endorse your effort to raise the point that male victims of trafficking must be acknowledged and supported, I am deeply concerned to see that you reference the outdated and absolutely incorrect statistic that only 2% of victims of sex trafficking are male in this post.

    According to research from ECPAT-USA, John Jay College, and others there is a great deal of evidence that far more than 2% of sex trafficking victims are male. According to the paper, “And Boys Too” that was recently issued by ECPAT-USA “as high as” 50% of survivors of sex trafficking may be male.

    Please help us correct this terrible error in the literature and public perceptions of the importance and scale of male victimization. Every survivor matters, and overlooking the millions of males around the world who are sex trafficked makes it far harder to address the overall picture of sex trafficking.

    Christopher M. Anderson
    Executive Director, MaleSurviovr

    • HTC

      Dear Mr. Anderson,

      Thank you for referring us to the study you cited by the John Jay College. The findings presented are definitely interesting and worth looking into. I encourage others to read this study and form their own opinions. I would like to point out, however, that this study is limited in both methodology and scope. The methodology employed is respondent-driven sampling, and while I am not about to propose a better sampling method, it does limit accessibility to non-street-based or hidden populations. In addition, while I agree that the findings are surprising and important, I would hesitate to extrapolate from this one study in one city alone that similar statistics would be found everywhere.

      I agree wholeheartedly with the need to pay more attention to men and boys and that male victimization is grossly under-reported due to expectations of gender norms, cultural beliefs and other considerations. As is clear from your thoughtful response, we share many ideas on this topic. The Human Trafficking Center will certainly try to accurately represent the research we find on this matter and not to fixate on females alone.

      Please stay in touch and continue challenging us with new research which may lead to a more balanced picture of the issue at hand.

      Ashley Greve
      Associate Director of Advocacy
      The Human Trafficking Center

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