Demystifying the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys - Our Forgotten Victims
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Child sex trafficking is a phrase with which most of us are familiar and in many ways a fashionable topic to discuss in the media nowadays thanks to the publicity the issue has generated from celebrities and activists, as well as from websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist which have sparked furor for allegedly facilitating trafficking.
Yet, in thirteen years since the adoption of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) – which defined anyone less than 18 years of age induced to perform a commercial sexual act as a victim of trafficking and not a criminal – one group has been noticeably and consistently ignored in all of the research, policy and practice…young boys.
Just how many young boys fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC) in the United States is a contentious issue, particularly because there is still a lack of sound data for both boys and girls and adequate ground-level research in the field to produce accurate numbers. Thus, the child sex trafficking industry to date remains largely unevaluated and misunderstood, according to an Institute of Medicine report released last month.
Moreover, the tendency for organizations and anti-trafficking groups to inflate trafficking statistics and focus attention on women and girls rather than other high-risk groups like boys and transgendered youth, hinders the ability to locate these hidden populations and ultimately results in the misappropriation of resources that should be better spent on actual evidence-based research and rescue operations:
Ronald Weitzer, Professor of Sociology at George Washington University and author of ‘ Sex Trafficking and the Sex Industry: The Need for Evidence Based Theory and Legislation, explained to AlterNet how misallocating resources exacerbates the issue:
“NGOs have figured out that they can appeal to the public, donors and funders if they emphasize sex trafficking of girls. These organizations have a vested interest in defining the problem in one way over the other. Using the term women and girls frequently has a very clear purpose in attracting government funding, public and media attention but boys who are victimized are being ignored because most of the resources are devoted to girls,” Weitzer said.
In an increasing effort to address this gender gap, experts have begun to focus their attention on external factors that cause boys to fall under the radar, identifying a number of sociological and cultural reasons that contribute to the problem.
In the recently released study, “ And Boys Too” produced by the anti-trafficking group, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purpose (ECPAT-USA), researchers found through anecdotal evidence that boys enter a life of trafficking around the same time as girls at approximately 11-13 years of age. Of the 40 informants contacted in the ECPAT study, almost half (18) said they would serve boys.
This is consistent with the findings of a previous John Jay College and Centre for Court Innovation study in 2008 entitled, ‘ Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York’ which revealed that as high as 50 per cent of commercial sexually exploited children in the United States are boys.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation to come out of that study was that while 87 percent of the 4000 sample of children interviewed expressed a desire to exit ‘the life’, a great number of youths perceived their ‘work’ as a curious and fascinating lifestyle, rather than being coerced into it by a pimp. In fact, most boys were not ‘pimped’ in the traditional sense but instead recruited by familial procurers or “friends” who didn’t manage their work per se but rather facilitated them by offering shelter or referring them to buyers in exchange for clients or a share of their earnings.