John Long tells a heartbreaking story about a 10-year-old boy who formerly lived at the Hero House, the nation’s only safe house for trafficked boys. The kid had nothing, but a trash bag filled with stuffed animals.
No clothes. No shoes. Nothing.
This trafficked boy had been sold up to 10 times a day—every day since he was four.
Unfortunately, his case isn’t rare.
Of the thousands of kids caught up in the sex trade business, an estimated thirty-six percent are boys, a considerable portion transgender.
They are the forgotten victims because society doesn’t let them be victims, said John, the executive director of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT), which operates the safe house.
Currently, four boys live at the five-bed facility built from the ground up in an undisclosed location in central Florida. It serves biological males under the age of 18. Allowed to stay for as long as they wish, these formerly trafficked boys receive trauma counseling, life-skills training, and educational services. They get jobs.
More important they get a safe environment where they can heal and be kids.
Why So Few Homes?
When USIAHT began developing the home five years ago, with support from the state of Florida and private donations, no other facility of its kind existed. John believes that’s still the case, which raises an interesting question. Why so few safe homes for boys?
“It costs money,” John explained. “I have to keep the house staffed 24-hours-a-day, regardless of how many kids are living there. We have gotten national attention, people wanting to know what we’re doing. But you must want to do it. It’s a lot of work. You have to be committed.”
To be sure, USIAHT is committed.
Since opening its doors, Hero House has served 32 “throw-away” boys whose brokenness defies human comprehension.
Differences Between Trafficked Boys and Girls
Identifying trafficked male victims is the biggest challenge for USIAHT and other organizations fighting the sexual abuse of males. “They don’t quite fit the typical picture of a trafficking scenario,” John said.
For girls, traffickers are often fixtures in their lives. The abusers woo and groom these girls by buying expensive clothing and other gifts. Even a new hairstyle can be a tip off to the abuse. By asking questions, parents and others can discover the exploitation and take steps to protect the victims.
“We don’t always ask questions of boys,” John said. Furthermore, a trafficker isn’t always present. Sometimes, the boys themselves “put themselves out there” through advertisements on dating websites. Often homeless and penniless, they sell themselves for money or to satisfy a basic human desire to feel loved.
On occasion, they get scared and seek help. Sadly, most don’t get rescued. “Usually, they’re caught in sting operations,” John said.
And therein lies an injustice. Law enforcement arrests 90 percent of trafficked victims. Fewer than 10 percent of the buyers receive the same treatment.
The Root Problem
“We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of this problem,” John told me. “We have to fight demand. Without demand, there would be no need for a supply.”
And that fight begins with changing mindsets, said Michelle Newsome, an international human trafficking consultant who spoke in a training I took. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of sex-related products and services, including prostitution, escort services, and pornography, to name a few.
Although an increasing number of women buy sex services, 99 percent of buyers are men. In one study involving 8,500 male consumers, 25 percent admitted to buying commercial sex weekly, generating a whopping 75 percent in sex-industry sales, Michelle said.
These high-frequency buyers weren’t deadbeats, either. The vast majority had degrees and earned six-figure incomes. Furthermore, many had spouses, children, and lived otherwise upstanding lives, according to this study.
So, what gives?
Their belief systems drive their behavior—especially in our oversexualized culture, Michelle said.
To them, the prostitute or lap dancer isn’t a real person. The trafficked boy or girl is a commodity, a sexual outlet. If someone is selling sex, what’s the problem?
“We need to bring awareness to the problem,” Michelle said, referring especially to the trafficked.
“Buyers have a choice, these victims do not.”
For more information about child sex trafficking, check out two other blog posts here and here. You also may donate to the Hero House at USIAHT’s website or attend a training geared to identifying victims.