April 15, 2021
Chris Bates was 16 years old when he started selling nude photos of himself on the internet to adult men who pressured him for more and more images.
The demands snowballed into riskier requests, and within months the gay Connecticut teen was trading sex for dinners out, designer sneakers and other luxuries.
Bates says he was lured by the attention and what appeared to be easy money. He secretly hoped his financially struggling single mother, or anybody, would notice what was happening and protect him.
No one did — and within two years, the tall, lanky youth was living alone in a dilapidated apartment, prostituting himself to get by. His home — and an array of hotel rooms in Connecticut and Massachusetts — became a “revolving door” of sex buyers.
“I really thought I was the bad person selling myself,’’ said Bates, now 26 and living in Worcester. “I didn’t realize that I was a victim.”
Bates’ story is unusual only in that it is so rarely told: Boys and young men lured into the sex trade and victimized in ways the public generally assumes applies mostly to women and girls. But there is growing evidence that in New England and across the United States there are likely thousands of male victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, far more than previously understood.
In Massachusetts alone, more than 411 boys have been referred to the state Department of Children and Families since 2018 for concerns they were victims of commercial sexual exploitation — about 15 percent of the total number of referrals, according to state data. An additional 109 youth were identified as trans or non-binary, state data shows.
The state just started collecting this data in 2016, and it is widely considered to be an undercount. Definitive data is still lacking but recent studies show boys and young men are being exploited at much higher rates. A 2016 national study found more than a third of young people involved in the U.S. sex trade were boys and young men. That same year, a federal study found a third of male youths experiencing homelessness said they traded sex for something of value — putting their numbers in the thousands on any given night nationwide.
Yet too often male victims of sexual exploitation go unseen and unhelped, specialists say, their stories stifled by personal shame, stigma and a world that has trouble seeing boys and young men as victims at all, especially gay and trans youth and boys of color.
In Massachusetts, there is one program focused solely on helping sexually exploited male youth and trans females, and its revenue last year was less than half of its sister program for female youth run out of the same nonprofit, Roxbury Youthworks, Inc.
Prosecuting exploiters and traffickers of boys and young men is even more challenging. The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General has filed 62 sex trafficking cases since 2012, but only one includes a male victim, state officials say.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says her office strives to hold exploiters accountable, whatever the gender of their victims, in what she calls one of the “fastest growing criminal industries in the world.” She says many victims are unwilling to speak out, silenced by fear, trauma, and often substance abuse issues. She says she is working to better identify male and trans female victims. “We have to absolutely talk about the fact that it is not just girls, it is boys as well,’’ she said. “They suffer from the same trauma, the same victimization, the same exploitation.”
Read or listen to the full story by Jenifer B. McKim and Phillip Martin on WGBH
May 13, 2019
The message shared with community members at a training event Thursday hosted by SOS, Inc. was straight and to the point: Boys are trafficked, too.
The training was led by nationally-respected human trafficking expert, Russell Wilson.
Dena Russell, director of SOS CASA of the Flint Hills, said many efforts have been made throughout the state to combat human trafficking. The Attorney General’s office has facilitated trainings for social service professionals throughout the state to recognize human trafficking and provide supports for survivors. Though much progress has been made, there is still more to be done.
“One thing we have noticed is, boys are often left out of those conversations about human trafficking,” Russell said. “I think even when we think about human trafficking, we think about young girls in our mind’s eye. But we know boys are also trafficked. Anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of trafficking victims are male. We know, in Kansas, girls enter trafficking between the ages of 12 and 14, but we know boys are entering slightly younger than that.”
In an effort to bring attention to the trafficking of boys and provide community members with needed education, SOS, Inc. arranged for Wilson to come to Emporia to present. He not only presented to community partners on Thursday afternoon, he also spoke to more than 700 students at Emporia High School Thursday morning. Students from Emporia, Olpe, Hartford, Chase County and Hamilton high schools were in attendance.
Wilson’s message was clear, “Boys are trafficked, too.” He knows it to be true all too well, because he experienced trafficking at a young age. He was first trafficked by his mother at 7 years old — she sold him to pedophiles to pay the bills. After being removed from his mother’s care, he was placed in foster homes, where he was also sexually abused.
To escape the abuse in his foster home, he ran away, landing on the streets by the time he was 11. Within 15 minutes of being on the streets, he was approached by a trafficker and soon found himself engaging in sex acts as a means of survival. Access to food and housing was tied directly to sexual abuse at the hands of adults.
“I’ve experienced all different aspects of how people are trafficked,” Wilson said. “It is something I obviously have an intimate understanding of. But that is not what makes me an expert. All that does is make me an expert in my story. What makes me an expert is, I’ve also spent many years studying, working with organizations, helping develop programs and curriculum, working with law enforcement and several federal agencies on helping to develop programs at the federal level. I’ve done a lot of work on this issue, and I feel very proud to be considered an expert.”
There are many myths surrounding the trafficking of boys. Wilson quickly tackled some of those myths head on. He advised masculinity has nothing to do with trafficking; the most masculine of boys and men can find themselves in vulnerable situations which make them easy prey for traffickers. Another myth is that boys and men cannot be raped. He said this is false, and reinforced the idea by saying, “an erection is not consent.” Rather, it is a physical reaction young men often have little control over.
Another myth dispelled by Wilson was related to the trauma surrounding the exploitation of boys. Some believe trafficking is not as harmful to boys as it is to girls. Others believe boys are “lucky” when they are preyed on by older women. Wilson said both myths are dangerous and false.
The final myth Wilson addressed is one he said can be particularly harmful as boys are trying to heal and move forward after being trafficked. The myth that boys are gay, will become gay or will become abusers is particularly harmful. Being exploited by a male does not make a person identify as gay. Just as being abused does not mean a victim of abuse will automatically become a perpetrator. Those myths can make survivors of trafficking feel more isolated and experience additional guilt, only adding to their trauma.
Current research in trafficking focuses mainly on the experiences of girls and women. Research studies all too often leave out boys and men.
To read the full story by Jessie Wagoner on The Emporia Gazette: Click Here