Story by: EMMANUEYNE DARGBEH / Academy at Palumbo
When you think about human trafficking what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely it will be a stereotypical Hollywood imagery of an international young woman trafficked across borders as in, Taken; a group of malnourished children forced to harvest distant crops as in Blood Diamond, or an inner city brothel exposed as exploiting dozens of young girls and women.
The usual place men occupy in these stories is that of the “bad guy,” rarely the victims, seldom the rescuer. However, we should be careful not to deny male survivors of trafficking their status of victims. Human trafficking is an issue that harms both sexes. It’s not simply a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s.
While women and children are believed to be the main victims of human- trafficking, given their increased vulnerability in many countries, men make up a significant percentage of victims as well. However as men are mostly trafficked into labor positions, also they are harder to discover and rescue. This leads to under-reporting. Some countries do not even have laws in place against labor trafficking, making it virtually impossible to find, prosecute, or record these cases. Alarming statistics produced by the U.S. State Department report that between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of adult male victims of human trafficking jumped from 6 percent to 45 percent.
According to the Trafficking in Persons: Global patterns report, “It is men especially who might be expected to be trafficked for forced labor.” However, forced labor is not the only facet of human trafficking in which males become trapped. A group at risk for exploitation is homosexual young men. They are at an increased risk of becoming homeless by being kicked out of their homes or running away to escape abuse and harassment either from school or home. More than one study has indicated that homeless and runaway youths are among the easiest targets for traffickers and pimps.
Often these young men, forced to engage in “survival sex,” are swept up into trafficking, and there’s not much said or done about it because the world’s mindset cannot accept the fact that males are indeed victims.
Now, don’t go thinking that only homosexual males are affected by this horrible situation because that would be completely FALSE. Straight males are also sexually exploited, they just seem to be harder targets. One of the many problems that render male victims invisible is that abuse occurs secretly, making it difficult to document and track. Despite the under-reporting and the general lack of government interest in male victims, there is information showing that men and boys are victims of multiple forms of human trafficking, including of course, prostitution. The “bacha bereesh,” the dancing boys in northern Afghanistan, are kidnapped, raped, and traded among the wealthy warlords. The worst part is this have been going on for generations, it is part of their culture, lifestyle and religion. The boys ages range from 11 to 18 years of age. They are poor, which makes them easy prey because they get bribed with money.
The reason why people think boys and men are not victims of sex trafficking is because no one bothers to look for them. No one bothers to ask about them. No one bothers to reach out to them. And because no one reaches out to male victims, trafficked boys and men will not reach out for help. They live under the same threats that female victims do, and the only way to break fear’s grip on them is to offer them the acknowledgment and support they need to break free.