*Names in this post have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
James was your typical middle school boy about to go into high school. He had plenty of friends, did pretty well in school, his parents had great, stable jobs, and he even played a couple intramural sports; but he didn’t have a girlfriend. That is, until a girl added him on Facebook from a few towns over. He and Sam started texting and talking a lot and a relationship sprouted. Sam started sending him sext messages and pictures of herself naked, and while James had never done this before, and frankly he was a little weirded out by it, he returned the favor by sending sext messages and pictures of himself naked as well. While the relationship continued to grow, James and Sam started having cybersex using the new laptop his parents had given him for his birthday, each performing sexual acts over skype while the other watched. However, there was something Sam wasn’t telling James. After they had been dating for a while and had been having cybersex regularly, Sam told James that a man had been forcing her to do all of this with him and that everything he had done had been recorded and was being sold to chatrooms of men who paid and subscribed to watch him perform these sexual acts. She went on to explain that if he made any attempts to stop or told anyone about this, that the videos would be shared with everyone at his school. James was trapped.
What makes this story stand out as different than what most people think about typical human trafficking? This is a well-off boy being trafficked.
Never mind the fact that most people tend to think that human trafficking only takes place in other countries; but even when people understand that it happens in the United States, they tend to believe that victims are exclusively women. However, current estimates are that 45% of human trafficking victims around the world are men and boys. (polarisproject.org/facts) Within the United States, as many as 50% of commercially sexually exploited children are suggested to be males according to a New York research study. In fact, the FBI reports that the average age at which boys enter into prostitution is 11 to 13. Given the nature of New Jersey Legislation, anyone under the age of 18 engaged in the commercial sex trade is treated as a victim of human trafficking; a commercial sex act meaning any act of a sexual nature for which anything of value is given or received by any person.
Experts across the board are agreeing on the fact that men, indeed, are being trafficked, and it could even be in greater numbers that currently estimated due to the hiddenness of these males, a factor which is true of all human trafficking as well. This could be because of any number of reasons, the most likely of which is the heightened level of shame that boys experience as a result of being victims of sex trafficking.
In American culture, boys are pressured to present a “strong” image in order to impress others. While not all boys conform to the need to present this image, it is certain that there is still the presence of that pressure in every boys’ life. This contributes to a sense that men need to keep silently to themselves when experiencing any type of issue or struggle. This becomes increasingly true the more the issue escalates. Therefore, males who have been trafficked are more likely to stay silent about their situation even without the additional pressure their traffickers assuredly place upon them to stay silent through threats.
Let’s take a look at another piece of James’ story: he and his family were, by no means, in trouble financially. Another misconception about victims of sex trafficking is that only impoverished people get trafficked. The fact of the matter is that anyone, rich or poor, can be victimized by sex trafficking. Countless cases have been uncovered of people who were financially stable being trafficked.
The only factor that needs to exist for a person to be considered at-risk of being trafficked is vulnerability. James was doing well in most areas of his life, but his vulnerability was loneliness and the desire for a girlfriend; and his trafficker preyed on that vulnerability.
James was lucky to have been caught in the midst of his being trafficked and was set free from his trafficker, but there are still thousands of males and females, rich and poor, being trafficked within the United States every year in need of rescue.
My call to you, then, is to be an informed whistleblower, paying attention to trafficking and its victimization of all genders and economic classes, even in your own neighborhoods, and bringing awareness of the issue to those around you.
If you believe yourself or someone you know to be a victim of sex trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 and/or the New Jersey State Hotline at (855) 363-6548.
Written by Alec Shover, Love True Prevention Education Intern