Written by Kim Merrikin
on January 24, 2018
In our last blog, we invited you to be aware of how gender-based violence and the sex industry are correlated—since globally, 98% of sex trafficking victims are female.
The local statistics tell a different story, however. It is estimated that in King County, from 10–50% of trafficked youth are male. In a recent Stolen Youth panel discussion (video), King County Prosecuting Attorney Val Richey said, “In cases in our office, and in cases from service providers who work with youth, consistently many of the people affected are girls. Not only, though. There are many boys—and consistently we see in the data there are ten, to thirty, to fifty percent boys who are exploited.” He went on to discuss how little information we have on the trans and non-gender conforming individuals within our community—and the correlation between housing instability and the child welfare system, and exploited youths.
So for National Human Trafficking Month, we’re inviting you to join us in remembering the men and boys who are being exploited in our community. We believe that each and every one of them are wholly worthy of love, and deserve to be treated with dignity, worth, love, and respect.
In the short documentary “The Silence”, Jerome, who was trafficked by his stepfather for seven years as a child, said, “You begin to see your worth as a sex object, and that’s how you’re defined. You’re made to feel you don’t matter. You’re basically brainwashed into thinking you deserve it… I was actually molested by one of the teachers that I told. The people around me just didn’t notice. I was labeled as melodramatic, accident prone, and attention seeking.”
REST was founded out of the realization that the services for women who have experienced Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) were sorely lacking—nearly non-existent in some regards. Now, eight years later, we have an Emergency Receiving Center (hotline, drop-in and shelter), community advocates providing case management throughout the region, and a Restorative Housing Program, . And while we are thrilled to be where we are now, we recognize that we still primarily serve women; and that as we’ve filled some of the gap in the need for these services for women, the help for male survivors is a seriously unmet need.
To put it in the words of the U.S. Department of State, “Around the world, the sex trafficking of boys and men continues to be hidden and underreported, and there is a severe shortage of programs to meet their needs… Governments should ensure services are sensitive to the needs of all victims, regardless of gender, and adapt methodologies as needed. All trafficking victims should be offered high quality individualized assistance, supported in regaining control of their lives, and empowered to make informed decisions about the options available to them.” This is why we’re slowly rounding a corner to emphasize services to all genders. We see the need here in our community, and we’re responding to it. This month, we welcomed Erik, a new community advocate, to our team to serve sexually exploited boys and young men. He is the first dedicated advocate for male survivors in King County.
On top of expanding our services to males and enabling us to serve more individuals in the LGBTQ community, Erik will be helping us through expanding our comprehension of this largely underreported, and therefore underserved, population. “It might not look like someone walking down from the Motel 6 in short shorts,” Erik explained, “But when we start thinking about it, you realize that someone addicted and involved in sex work probably doesn’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves.” With emerging local data telling stories of gang activity involving trafficked male youths, and trading sex for survival needs such as housing or food, Erik is already diving into the questions: What does it really mean to look at who’s involved in the sex trade—and why are they involved?
In 2018, we are looking forward to getting a better understanding of the needs and how to serve the trafficking victims who are often overlooked —the men, boys, and non-gender conforming individuals in the sex trade. We look forward to seeing, hearing, and believing their stories—and offering pathways of freedom, safety, and hope to them.