The global reality of sexual exploitation and trafficking knows no gender. Internationally, it is said that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before reaching adulthood, and in some nations the exploitation and abuse of boys has even been found to far outweigh that of girls.
However, sexual exploitation and trafficking of boys is a reality that commonly goes ignored.
Social and cultural norms commonly assume that boys are inherently strong and do not recognize that they also can be victimized. Thus, there are very few who are even aware that this is a need that exists. Even within the language of the anti-trafficking movement, it is usually “she” who is in need of support, and it is “her” story that we often tell. Because of this lack of awareness, the efforts of the organizations and individuals who work to provide for the needs of male victims are often under-supported. Love146 has made addressing the exploitation of boys a key objective in its work, and often does this by partnering with key organizations that are pioneering such work..
Urban Light is one of those organizations. Serving in Thailand, Urban Light provides shelter, health services, employment and education to sexually exploited boys. Love146 works to fund, advise, and build the capacity of Urban Light as they provide this care. As a part of this work, we work with Urban Light to assess the needs and vulnerabilities of these young males through research.
Research is a key part of the work that we do in the field, because it allows us to hear directly from exploited children and other vulnerable persons in order to understand and meet their deeper needs. It also helps us to understand social trends, demographics, and trans-border migration patterns so that we can provide better-informed prevention to vulnerable groups — before the exploitation happens.
A major part of this is being able to share these unheard or overlooked stories to key governmental and policy-making groups. When you are able to offer informed data and valuable learning to government bodies who have the power to impact lives and make real and lasting change, it is incredibly exciting.
Recently, I had the privilege of going with Urban Light’s founder, Alezandra Russell, to meet with Mark Miller — the political economic Officer of the U.S. Consulate in Thailand. Mr. Miller and his team in charge of providing data for the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report.
The findings that we presented centered around our field research experiences this summer. We presented findings from a recently completed exploratory study that we conducted working alongside Urban Light. I had spent a number of months working closely with Urban Light staff and volunteers in developing and administering a survey with sexually exploited boys working in red light areas in Chiang Mai — one of Thailand’s more populated cities. This allowed for us to gain a better, more holistic understanding of the needs, vulnerabilities, and resiliencies of the boys working in the area. At the same time, it was an opportunity for Urban Light to network to the broader community of exploited males in the Chiang Mai area, and expand the reach of the services and care that they provide.
This has been our fourth study in a series of baseline research with Love146 that aim to “fill in the gaps”, looking at highly vulnerable people groups who often go overlooked. For me, this series has been all about connecting with individuals and hearing the stories of young males who are so often “hidden in plain sight” and then connecting those stories with the governmental bodies and organizations that can make a real and lasting difference.
This work is also about advocacy. It is about changing the language that we commonly use to talk about vulnerability and realizing that males and females alike suffer neglect, abuse, sexual exploitation and rape, which results in stigma, shame, and numerous other social and emotional effects. The difference is that boys do not have the same networks of support and are not often perceived to be vulnerable, and are thus given less attention.
I am excited that we are able to pioneer this kind of research with a largely unrepresented group of trafficked and exploited people. And I am thrilled to be able to work with an organization, like Love146, that is willing to fill in the gaps, listening to the stories that so often go unheard and play a significant role in developing the support and attention that these groups so desperately need.
Thank you for helping us listen
as we advocate for children.