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Demystifying the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys - Our Forgotten Victims

Boys make up 50% of children trading sex for money in the U.S, so why is nobody talking about them?

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Such a narrative is certainly not one we hear about very often, particularly in the media, which tends to focus on the conventional pimp that preys upon and kidnaps children off the street.  Nonetheless, it is one that licensed independent clinical social worker Steven Procopio who is heavily involved in developing CSEC programs for boys, is most familiar:

“These boys can have pimps, either men or women, but generally as the boy ages out into his late 20s, he may rent an apartment with several other boys in the life and in exchange for those younger boys having shelter and a room to sleep, they work for the older boy.  The other scenario is the fee-for-service drive-by-pimp – a guy will drive his car, ask a boy if he wants to make some money for the evening, pimp him out and then at the end of the night he may never see that person again.  In other situations, families may pimp out their boys to support their drug addiction,” he told AlterNet.

Similarly, sex trafficker survivor Tina Frundt, the founder of anti-trafficking non-profit  Courtney’s House and Frederick Douglass Award recipient from  Freed the Slaves says such accounts are in line with her own personal experience as a sex trafficking victim and street outreach service provider:

“Boys can have a 'mama', just like girls call pimps ‘daddy’. Usually the mama is a transgendered male, but it doesn’t have to be like that at all.  In a family controlled situation, the trafficker may even be his grandma, who tells the boy ‘we all make money together, we’re in this household and you have to contribute.  With boys/transgendered we find that most entered trafficking between the ages of 6 and 10, usually mislabeled as a child abuse case.  My organization gets 8-11 referrals per week.  How many are boys? I have an even number of everything [it’s 50-50].  The traffickers are online too all over and Craigslist and it’s like kiddy porn but we’re not even looking for boys online or offering them any services, so we’re missing it,” she told AlterNet at “ The Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Trafficking on Minors” seminar hosted by  Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Centre in New York last week.

Such findings, which illustrate that young males are equally as present as girls in this sex trafficking industry, raise the question - why aren’t we offering boys better protection? Or more importantly, why do they have such little contact with the anti-trafficking community? 

According to the  ECPAT-USA report, the answer lies in the fact that service providers and institutions incorrectly perceive boys as having more agency to take care of themselves in exploitive sexual situations with policymakers failing to even acknowledge the existence of male sex workers at all.

ECPAT-USA’s Executive Director, Carol Smolenski, who has worked in the industry for 20 years, explained this mindset to AlterNet:

“CSEC has evolved into a discussion about girls, while boys are virtually invisible in scholar discussion.  There are cultural and gender reasons as to why we see females as victims of trafficking whereas males are viewed as the perpetrators and dominant in the relationship because they are seen as the primary engines behind sex trafficking as 'pimps' and 'johns'….But boys are also dominated in the same way as girls because of the imbalance of power between adults and children,” she said.

The ECPAT study also revealed that boys are more reluctant to declare themselves as victims or report incidents of exploitation to avoid the potential stigma associated with being viewed as gay.

“Years ago, to hear a young woman speak out against commercial sexual exploitation was almost unheard of and even now girls and boys are still so stigmatized or treated as figures of ill-repute.   Over the years, however, we have seen how this has changed for girls and now females can be very outspoken and adamant to shine light on what has been done to them. We have the same trajectory to go through for boys in order to breakthrough the barrier.  It is still hard to find young men who are survivors to come forward to discuss this because it’s traumatizing.  It is important to support boys and their willingness to be thought of as survivors to bring this discussion along,” Smolenski said.

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