Why Are Men Underrepresented in Human Trafficking?

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month was signed into law in 2010, and has been observed since then. We recognize this month to bring awareness to modern day slavery. For the month of January, I will be writing articles specifically dedicated to human trafficking to bring awareness to the issue. The first one will be discussing why I think men are underrepresented in human trafficking. I will leave the disclaimer that I wrote something similar to this for Stop The Demand Project.

When most people discuss or hear about human trafficking, we often think women and children as the main victims. The other stigma people have is that all traffickers are men. This couldn't be further from the truth. Men are also victims of human trafficking. Currently, men make up nearly 30% of trafficking victims. Because human trafficking is already a well-hidden crime, we don't know how close these numbers are.

Why are men underrepresented in human trafficking? 

There are a number of reasons, but it can be summed up in two words: gender bias. Society has gender biases of the victims of human trafficking, and who the trafficker is. Society views women as vulnerable and weak, whereas men are strong, greedy, and even sex-driven (making the assumption that only men can be traffickers legitimate). Hollywood always make men the perpetrator of human trafficking. Society also has the view that since men are "strong," they should be able to fight off their traffickers and avoid exploitation. Not only does this give an improper understanding of what human trafficking is, which is that the victims and the traffickers have no specific gender or race, but it also hinders men from coming forward about their story and experience.

When it comes to the victims, what do they all have in common? They were either abused, endured poverty or violence, or something else harmful to their mental and/or physical health, placing an invisible target on their back. 

Women as Human Traffickers?

This also brings up the discussion of  how women can be traffickers. A report from the United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons stated that "A disproportionate number of women are involved in human trafficking, not only as the victims, but also as traffickers." Gender bias, as well as cultural bias, cause female traffickers to remain hidden and succeed in their crimes. Majority of society believes only men are traffickers, and only women and girls are victims. Because women are seen as "maternal" or "safe," they are not considered a threat, which makes a trafficker's job that much easier. There is not enough discussion on female traffickers. Look, the Ghislaine Maxwell verdict came in a few days ago for her role in trafficking minors. She's a prime example that women can be human traffickers.

Little Understanding for Male Victims of Human Trafficking

Fight The New Drug shared a study from ECPAT-USA, the leading anti-child trafficking organization in the United States. In this particular study, you learned how law enforcement did NOT have adequate training for male victims of human trafficking. "Several key informants said that law enforcement believes that boys are not pimped and therefore not in need of services," the article shared. The same informants involved in the study shared how law enforcement had little understanding that boys can be victims of CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), compared to girls. "One informant said she was forced to explain to law enforcement professionals before filing a report that boys and young men can be bought and sold just like girls." 

Sean Wheeler shared his story with Fight The New Drug, and I wanted to leave this quote for you. "The range of estimates comes down to underreporting, and the underreporting comes down to stigma. This is a problem because as organizations try to raise the alarm on sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, support services may continue to be in low supply for male victims simply because many people do not realize how they are involved and victimized."

Anyone who hears of a female victim or minor victim of human trafficking, we are immediately emphatic to them. Men, on the other hand, do not get equal consideration. Again, because society perceives them as "strong," nobody considers them victims. In an article from USA Today, one male victim of child trafficking kept his trauma to himself for 15 years, tried to kill himself twice, before getting the help he needed. 

The author of the USA Today article shared the following: "The result is that tens of thousands of boys and men continue to suffer in silence. And like other victims of sexual abuse, they’re at greater risk of depression, suicide and chronic diseases. They’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol."

Society needs to come to the realization that gender biases have no place in the anti-trafficking movement. Victims have no specific gender, and if we are to fight human trafficking, we must help all victims.


National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
Text HELP or INFO to 233733
National Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
National Missing and Exploited Children Hotline: 1-800-843-LOST (5678)

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