Male Sex Trafficking: The Invisible Victims

Vet talking to counselor

Written by Mags Gullo, Program Director for Bob’s House of Hope

In today’s world, most people have heard of human trafficking. When we think of human trafficking, most of us probably think of labor trafficking or the sex trafficking of women in other countries. The problem with this thought process is that we overlook boys and young men who actually make up nearly half of all domestic sex trafficking victims. That’s correct. Sex trafficking happens to boys and young men right here in the US, right here in Texas, right here in Denton.

The Stigma Surrounding Male Victims of Sex Trafficking

After hearing this, the question “Why do we only hear about women?” may come to mind. There is a huge stigma for sex trafficking victims, but even more so for males. It is often assumed that men can “take care of themselves” and that it would be impossible for a man to be taken advantage of in this way.

A study done by Westcoast Children’s Clinic states that males are “more likely to be seen as choosing to be trafficked and to be less impacted by the accompanying traumas” (Perry, 2023, P. 7). This perception is quite simply false. In truth, males are equally vulnerable and susceptible to the trauma of trafficking. Despite this, male victims are criminalized at a higher rate than female victims and their exploitation is often written off as being a chosen “side hustle.” The overwhelming truth is that sex trafficking does happen to boys and men, and more frequently than most people think.

The Psychological Impact of Sex Trafficking on Men

Male victims of sex trafficking encounter a variety of trauma-induced mental and physical health concerns. 100% of boys and men who have been sex trafficked will have PTSD to some degree. Many will ultimately suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. In addition, they typically struggle to make and maintain healthy connections with those around them due to repeated experiences of interpersonal betrayal.

Studies suggest that male victims are more likely to externalize their traumatic experiences by acting out in aggression. As a result, people interpret these “displays of aggression” as criminal behavior. Westcoast Children’s Clinic’s study stated that many victims felt that “providers tend to perceive outward aggression as a sign of delinquency and rarely consider it as a sign of victimization” (Perry, 2023, P. 12).

Ways You Can Help

The next question people ask is “How do we help?” The first way to help is by recognizing the signs of trafficking. Here are a few signs someone might be in a trafficking situation according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline:

  • Homelessness or an unstable living situation
  • Serious age gaps between them and their romantic partner
  • Seeming to be under the control of someone else
  • Spotted with unexplained cash, phones, jewelry, and unusual bruises/injuries.

Victims become lured into trafficking by many means, but often it is the promise of financial stability, gifts, or a relationship with their trafficker. The key for you is to remember, if you see something, say something.

Another way you can help is by supporting Bob’s House of Hope and other anti-trafficking initiatives. Bob’s House of Hope is the first safe house in the country for adult, male survivors of sex trafficking. BHOH is a comprehensive treatment program that provides housing, food, case management, counseling and assessment, psychiatric care, and various other wrap-around services. You can reach The Bob’s House of Hope team by calling (940) 228-2742 or emailing [email protected]. Additionally, The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a helpful resource if you believe someone is a victim of trafficking. You can make a report by phone at 1-888-372-7888 or on their website. Remember, if you see something, say something.

Reference: Perry, D., Basson, D., Cuevas, S., & Tebow, C. (2023). Exploitation and Gender: Increasing the Visibility of Cismale, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming Youth. Oakland, CA. WestCoast Children’s Clinic.