Washington, D.C. – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Washington College, and The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking held a historic press conference at the National Press Club Thursday to kick off the first ever symposium on the sexual exploitation harming boys and men.
The government, NGOs, and society at large have overlooked male victims of sexual exploitation, the organizations argued, leaving the victims without adequate resources.
Haley Halverson, Director of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, cited some very troubling research showing that these victims have been largely left behind by society.
She explained that children who experience sexual abuse are at an increased risk of being sex trafficked, but that this is especially true for boys. Halverson cited a 2017 study from the American Journal of Public Health which “found that girls who were sexually abused as children were 2.5 times more likely to be sex trafficked, but for boys their risk factor of being sex trafficked was over eight times greater if they had been sexually abused.”
Halverson added that “research is showing that when boys report sexual abuse they’re met with more mistrust than girls and, upon analysis, media stories about abuse or sex trafficking regularly focus on young, white females instead of addressing more complex narratives.”
She also cited one study that surveyed 37 service providers for sexual trafficking victims across the United States and found “between them there were only 28 beds for sex trafficked males, this despite the fact that estimated range of male trafficking victims hovers in the hundreds of thousands.”
“When we render the victimized experiences of boys and men socially invisible policymakers and service providers fail to account for them,” she warned.
Halverson also pointed to the troubling verdict in the case of Jeffrey Hurant, CEO of the male-escort site Rentboy, who received only six months from U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie in a Brooklyn court despite running “what the government has called one of the largest sex work ventures ever prosecuted.”
“Evidence presented by prosecutors showed that Rentboy was covertly working with pimps and sex traffickers,” she said “one sex trafficker used the website to sell 10 to 12 year old boys.”
Halverson urged Congress to “pursue its current efforts to amend the Communications Decency Act which will allow states and victims of sex trafficking to hold online facilitators of sex trafficking accountable.”
“Our law too often simultaneously gives a free pass to virtual slavery auctions for crimes that would be easily prosecuted if they occurred on the streets,” she said.
“We all have our part to shed a light on the needs of exploited boys and men,” Halverson concluded. “The media must constantly cover diverse individuals especially boys and men impacted by sex trafficking and child sexual abuse…service providers must actively develop better recovery and intervention services for these individuals and judicial and policy influencers at every level must make a serious and concerted effort to hold exploiters accountable."
Tom Jones, a sexual abuse and trafficking survivor who founded the Healing, Outreach and Peer Empowerment (H.O.P.E.) Project, also spoke about the silence surrounding male victims and the need for more data to give them better resources.
“This deep silence is what’s keeping the problem continuing,” Jones said. “The silence embodies shame, it embodies questions of sexuality, and it questions cultural differences, cultural barriers. It embodies so many things but the bottom line is that it embodies silence."
“We need more data,” he emphasized. “How do we get more data? We have to ask the source. The problem is that the source isn’t talking and that’s a problem. We can’t get to the endgame of ending this suffering until we get more data.”
He said his project tries “to provide a fellowship, it’s a beginning step and what that beginning step is support, peer support. It’s a powerful tool to help the male survivor reach towards those final steps of getting healing.”
Jones said they also “make efforts to try to drive data, to try to drive research so that we can actually get more gender specific resources for these people.”
Kevin Malone, President of the US Institute Against Human Trafficking and former baseball general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, spoke about the new home for male victims of sex trafficking his organization is opening, the first of its kind that he’s hoping will lead to more homes like it.
“It’s for boys (ages) 10-17 that have been vetted and gone through the process to identify that they were trafficking victims,” he told reporters.
“We’re called just to provide safety and a safe place for these boys to be able to recover and be restored,” he said, “we have found that the residential setting for healing and restoration is the best at least in many places so our hope is to…create a module and kind of a program of how we can replicate and duplicate these boys’ safe homes across the country.”
Malone said he was outraged by the extensive child sex exploitation going on in this country and that he didn’t understand why more people were not fighting to end it.