Articles on Modern Day Enslavement - Zola M Dube

Leaving Boys Behind? Discrepancies in Male Child Sex Abuse & Trafficking Representation & Advocacy

In Research Topics on June 4, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Adzon, started in 1991, provides assistance almost exclusively to boys, who make up 95 per cent of its clients. It is situated in the area of Brussels where boy prostitutes operate and reports that a large number of these boys are from eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania. (1)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1998

In this blog the words “child prostitution” and “child prostitutes” are held in quotations. Research, case studies, child advocacy activists and recent legislative measures (e.g., New York’s Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act) on the subject render the title misleading and accessory to the criminalizing girls and boys or underage Human Trafficking victims. The question of whether or not a child mindfully and willfully decides to be a prostitute has been hotly debated. It is argued that a child is prostituted, through an abusive process of initiation, into prostitution by a dominant character(s).  Adults clients foster the sexual trafficking of children by taking advantage, turning a blind eye, or failing to acknowledge traumatized, neglected, thrown away, desperate, and misguided children.

Statistics on “child prostitution” are absolutely staggering and heart wrenching. The world wide pioneering work and sustained movement by countless know and unknown individuals, organizations, NGOs, government bodies, and religious groups, etc. to free women and girls from bondage is without question worthy of utmost respect and continuous rigorous support. It is equally imperative to raise awareness of the unknown scale of global male child sex trafficking and exploitation.

Since its inception, 13 has embarked on a quest to become abreast of people and organizations dedicated to the anti-human trafficking and anti-child sex trafficking crusade. 13 research has lead to the understanding that data on commercial sex trafficking and exploitation often subsumes girls under “women”, thereby misrepresented the number of girl victims. It has also found that there is a lack of research on boys in comparison to that of girls. In this instance, boys are subsumed under “child prostitutes” and “child sex trafficking and exploitation”. Focus, research, case studies, and resources are disproportionately dedicated to sexual trafficking of girls.

There are organizations, including major foundations and government bodies, that do not mention boys and state their mission to saving women and girls from sexual slavery. As of June 3, 2010 the Wikipedia page on Human Trafficking, including information on the sexual trafficking of women and children, refers almost exclusively to women and girls and does not mention “boys” at all. In terms of age groups, the term “male prostitutes” is typically used in the sphere of sex workers and sex tourism, further obscuring clarity on whether subjects are boys or men. As sighted in the study by Dr. Maia Rusakova, discussed later in this article, the “retirement” age of male prostitutes is significantly younger than females; an indication of preference for young males. But, exactly how young is not known. Meanwhile, on the eve of the upcoming 2010 World Cup, Cape Town has been dubbed the pedophile capital of the world, where children as young as six and seven are abducted and sold into sex slavery to meet the demand of visiting tourists has already taken root.

Although much of the available research is dated, it remains fair to say countries around the world demonstrate similar attitudes and behaviors of minimizing male victimization that in turn inform and impact sex stereotyping, social denial, and the unlikelihood of boys reporting abuse or receiving the appropriate support if they do(2). With a 13 strategy based on using international games to raise awareness about Child Sex Trafficking under conditions of absence of timely and accurate research, it is important to at least attempt to identify contemporary studies that may provide leads to new approaches to developing focused data and analysis along gender and age lines.

The Sexual Abuse of Boys in Organized Male Sports written by British Sociologist Mike Hartil in 2009 provides a persuasive argument about the existence of “a social space that facilitates the sexual abuse of boys” in the context of male sports(3). In the article, Hartil sights barriers to accurate data similar to those noted by Watkins and Bentovim in 1992. As explained by Hartil, the “male perpetrator—female victim” paradigm dominates; hence, the perspective of the sexually abused boy is rarely investigated. Indeed, the aforementioned paradigm is so pervasive, it has a life of its own beyond research discipline; directly affecting the self-perception-as-victim and sense of assurance in the consciousness of boys to be acknowledged for their abuse. To present another example, in 1997, “To explore the current state of girls’ health”, the Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls extended its questionnaire to include boys. Of sexually abused children in grades five through twelve, 48% of the boys and 29% of the girls reported the abuse to no one (4).

Studies on the prostitution of boys and the “male perpetrator-female victim” paradigm are invaluable starting points for gaining a focus on male child sex trafficking and exploitation. Numeric gaps present yet another concern in data analysis. In a 1988 study on pornography and prostitution in North America, Diane Schetsky estimated that 500,000 to 1.2 million children are involved in child prostitution and at least 300,000 male prostitutes under age 16(6). 91% of prostitutes sexually abused as children never spoke to anyone about it. Only 1% received counseling for the effects of the abuse(7).

Finally, a 2006 report by Russian Sociologist and (NGO) Stellit Director, Dr. Maia Rusakova, deals directly with the subject of the commercial sexual exploitation of boys in North-West Russia. In this corner of the world, statistics on the sexual exploitation of boys are significantly greater than girls. Among the challenges sighted by Rusakova in collecting accurate data: all prevention work is mostly geared towards girls, preventative work for boys requires customization and is expensive, the male personality makes it less likely for boys to speak out (see Watkins, Bentovim, and Hartil), sexual exploitation of boys is more lucrative for boys than girls making alternative means of living less attractive and rehabilitation more difficult, court cases involving the conviction of sexual exploiters of boys is rare compared to that of girls, the work span of a male “child prostitute” is shorter than that of girls(5). Rusakova’s work provides potential transferable insights into developing a new body of variables to study male child sex trafficking and exploitation and reference guide to begin to identify and deconstruct barriers to research and analysis.

In the search for content for this article, the connection between childhood sexual abuse, untreated childhood trauma, and future trends in sexual exploitation in the life of childhood victims, not excluding safety, security, and criminal implications for entire nations, becomes transparent. At what point does the “adult” person over the age of 16-18 become the victim of his/her own making and circumstances? To this end, 13 also advocates for the appropriation of funds for more diligent, dynamic, timely, and focused research on the trafficking of children, both girls and boys.

It appears the methodologies, paradigms, and research processes applied to child sex trafficking or commercial sex trafficking are inherently flawed. As the world moves forward in supporting more rigorous and precise data and analysis on Child Sex Trafficking we may also agree that any further absence of such research is globally immoral in that it perpetuates the negligence of innocent boys. Where there are at least 127 nations engaged in Human Trafficking, there are equally 127 nations, in some unknown measure, engaged in specialized exclusive sexual trafficking of boys. As they caution society about the current challenges of conducting accurate research and presenting established research as “truth”, if studies by respected mental health experts, sociologists, and dedicated NGO leaders are fair and accurate in their assessment, there is a premise to conclude a significant contemporary, globally misguided and gross under-representation of sexually enslaved boys.

– Zola Dube

1. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Rights of the Children. Report on the mission of the Special Rapporteur to Belgium and the Netherlands on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Geneva, Switzerland. November 30-4 December 4, 1998

2. Watkins, B. & Bentovim, A. (1992). The sexual abuse of male children and adolescents: a review of current research. Journal of Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry, 33(10), 197-248. Department of Psychological Medicine, Hospitals for Sick Children, London, U.K.

3. Hartil, Mike (2009). The Sexual Abuse of Boys in Organized Male Sports. SAGE Journal. Men and Masculinities, Vol. 12, No. 2, 225-249

4. The Commonwealth Fund (1997) Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls .Cathy Schoen, Karen Davis, Karen Scott Collins et al.

5. Rusakova, Maia. (2006). The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys in North-West Russia. NGO “Stellit”

6. Schetky, Diane H. Child Pornography and Prostitution Child Sexual Abuse. Brunner/Mazel, 1988.

7. Finkelhor, David & Browne, Angela (1985). The Traumatic Impact of Child Sexual Abuse. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4).

  1. Hello,

    I am planning on doing a thesis for my MSW program on this very topic, as I have also noticed the massive gap in research in the area of male sex trafficking victims. Do you have any other, more recent, articles or research on the topic? I am currently working on my literature review. Thank you and I appreciate your blog!

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