Men and Boys and Human Trafficking
Ensuring equity and inclusion of services for all victims of human trafficking means addressing the needs of male victims. Men and boys are vulnerable to both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Talking about human trafficking and developing outreach materials inclusive of males is foundational to creating a space where it is okay to talk about these experiences.
"Often a common struggle in the victim services field is, 'we're not serving boys because they're not identifying.' Building rapport and trust with male clients requires providers to recognize and understand the unique risk factors and exploitation that male clients experience."
- Steven Procopio, ACSW, LICSW
These questions and answers come from Talking Circle conversations where American Indian and Alaska Native practitioners share their experiences supporting survivors of human trafficking.
Within Tribal communities, there is a need to understand that when we talk about healing, that means all genders, including males, females, and Two-Spirit people. That has been a challenge in our Tribal communities because individuals who identify as Two-Spirit or Native LGBTQIA+ are not always welcomed. Human trafficking is an issue also impacting males, specifically males who identify as Two-Spirit or LGBTQIA+. There is a need for education and awareness about male victimization. Good men in Indigenous communities are helping other men heal from the different forms of victimization; invite them to start having these conversations. Remember, within Tribal communities, victimization is not related to just one gender. It's impacting everyone. Create space for these conversations and victimization impacting males. Create safe spaces to have conversations throughout Native communities on this topic of male victimization.
Current services and support for individuals who experience human trafficking are female-centric, including policymaking, victim identification, and personal-level services; anti-trafficking services are not adequately serving males who have experienced trafficking. Looking back, maybe 10 years ago, this might have been because there was much to be learned about human trafficking victimization of males. Recent studies, however, particularly by the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, show males are vulnerable to both sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the U.S. Vulnerable populations include youth who have run away or are experiencing homelessness and migrant workers. Negative life experiences, adverse childhood experiences, mental health, medical issues, as well as substance use issues are contributing factors to men and boys experiencing human trafficking. It is imperative that males who have experienced human trafficking in the United States receive the same level of attention and specialized services as females who have experienced trafficking. Just like women and girls, men and boys need housing assistance, mental health services, medical assistance, employment services, emotional support, as well as legal assistance. Just like women and girls, men and boys are also being victimized where they are being forced into other crimes that are not related to human trafficking.
The first Day Labor Outreach Project funded by OTIP, with support from Arizona State University, was conducted in 2021 with a majority male population in Phoenix, Arizona. The findings showed the needs and services of someone in a labor trafficking situation are not significantly different than those of persons experiencing sex trafficking. Additionally, the Human Trafficking Leadership Academy Class 6 Recommendations Report exploring labor trafficking risk factors emphasizes that providing person-centered and trauma-informed services to survivors of human trafficking is essential. Survivors can become economically and personally independent when they obtain an education, gain new job skills, develop life and social skills, learn a new language, and gain or obtain employment.
Internal training is critical to work with staff on any biases they might have working with this particular population. For organizations specific to trafficking, offering ongoing training and reading the latest research is critical. Develop partnerships within your community with other community-based organizations so they know you offer services for men and boys, including housing, medical, mental health, emergency rooms, and educational systems. Consortia that meet monthly for networking meetings and to do case consultation and help survivors deal with the various systems can be helpful as well.
Gender plays a huge role in societal expectations and contributes to male survivors' vulnerabilities. Many migrant men in labor trafficking are given only one choice — to work long hours for little or no pay — due to machoism mixed with racial and gender inequality. Traffickers prey on the masculine identity and responsibility to care for one's family. Men and boys often do not question their lifestyle in labor trafficking. We have a duty to change that narrative. Men do experience hardships and pain. Seeking emotional support and safety planning and mental services should not be treated as a sign of weakness. It should be treated as a strength.
The survivors are the experts. Learn from them and do not assume to know their experiences. Never put labels on them until they are ready to come forward and identify their experiences. If we are openly having conversations, then we create a safe space for them. Sometimes we just need to listen rather than trying to fix it. NHTTAC’s How to Improve Services for Males Experiencing Trafficking fact sheet shares suggestions on building rapport with male clients.
For many male survivors, stereotypes about masculinity can make it hard for them to define their experiences as labor trafficking. Raising awareness about male victimization can help individuals see their experiences with sex or labor trafficking as a violation of their rights. Most people (both males and females) think trafficking comes through force only, which is not always how it happens. Use Office for Victims of Crime videos and materials as educational resources on victims’ rights with vulnerable males and the public.
The risk factors between males and females are more similar than different. Adverse childhood experience(s) can increase anyone’s risk. Some of the trauma may include a history of childhood sexual abuse, runaway behavior(s), homelessness, families with issues related to substance use, domestic violence, gang-related activity, multiple foster care placements, poverty, experiencing bullying, community violence, depression, self-harm, anxiety, and social isolation.
Trauma in males can present itself in various ways: depression, anxiety, social isolation, substance use, self-harm, extremely poor sense of self-esteem, oppositional behavior(s), poor decision-making abilities, poor academic performance, eating disorders, lack of effective social connections, and lack of trust in authority figures. These are common trauma indicators with women and girls as well.
If you or a loved one are experiencing human trafficking, you are not alone.
Strong Hearts Native Helpline and the National Human Trafficking hotline are available 24/7 to listen. All conversations over phone, text, and online chat are confidential and anonymous.
- Strong Hearts Native Helpline - 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a 24/7 safe, confidential, and anonymous domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives, offering culturally appropriate support and advocacy.
- National Human Trafficking Hotline - 1-888-373-7888, text "BeFree" (233733), or live chat at humantraffickinghotline.org.
During your conversations, if you desire, you may receive referrals to state or local resources.