They’re called the silent victims.
To the general population, their anguish is invisible. We think of men as the aggressors in a sexual crime, which they usually are, but we forget they can also be victims. Because of this mentality, trafficked men and boys experience an even deeper level of trauma and shame than the women and girls do. They will have worse PTSD because our culture silences them.
Think of the men in your life. How many will freely talk about their feelings, their past hurts, or their present wounds? If they did share those things, how many other men would view them as weak or even effeminate? Would someone say, “boys don’t cry”? If a male shared that he had been trafficked sexually, would someone think, “he probably wanted it” or “he deserved it?”
These cultural norms are why this myth persists.
The result: male victims have almost no access to resources and aftercare.
According to CBN News, there are only two U.S. shelters for boys where they can receive help and healing from sexual trauma. Only two! So, even if a boy is able to escape his abuser(s), there’s most likely no place for him to go. On the streets, it doesn’t take long for traffickers to spot a homeless or vulnerable boy, and his chances of being re-victimized are high.
Wait a minute, you say. How many males are actually victims?
Approximately 36% of underage trafficking victims in the U.S. are boys. In this largely hidden industry, numbers are difficult to come by, but many experts believe the number might be as high as 50%. This is due to the fact that male victims are far less likely to be identified. They will rarely admit what has been done to them, and if it is found out, it’s usually because they were picked up for a different crime, such as shoplifting or a drug-related charge.
The boys in the foster care system or who identify as LGBTQ are most at risk of being exploited, but any boy who doesn’t have a safe, caring adult in his life is vulnerable. Since the anti-trafficking movement focuses on helping female victims, the males tend to fall through the cracks. Even when in custody of law enforcement, male victims are often unrecognized and therefore don’t receive the help they need. Other boys refuse to expose their victimization because they don’t want to enter the foster care system.
What’s more, without concrete statistics on male victimization, funds for services are hard to come by.
Science doesn’t lie.
The main way to heal from trauma is to talk about it. To heal a mental wound, you have to treat it–not bandage it with a tough guy mentality. The brain has to be allowed to access the wound, to process it, and to properly store the traumatic memories. BioBeats explains it this way: When a traumatic event occurs, the brain stores the memory in fragments–just pictures or sensations. These fragments are like shrapnel, and may manifest themselves in the form of PTSD. However, “when the memory is reintegrated into the mind, the brain can start to heal.”
Let’s put aside our harmful stereotypes, our hasty judgment, and let these silent ones speak. Let’s remember that just like not all traffickers are men, not all victims are women. If we don’t make space for male survivors to speak out, it’s unlikely they can fully heal. If we don’t learn to recognize this myth of female-victims-only for what it is–a myth–then we’ve abandoned tens of thousands of boys.