He swags into the Muay Thai ring, bristling with muscle and covered in tattoos. His punches are freight trains, his shins made of steel, and there’s a fire burning in his eyes that’s difficult to describe.
At first look Ton (who asked that his name be changed for the article) looks as though he could never be a victim of anything. The pinnacle of strong and cool, manliness embodied. However, when asked about his past, his eyes grow distant, his countenance changes.
That’s because Ton is a survivor of sex trafficking.
Ton was 13 when he was sent away from his family home in Isaan to work for a “friend” in Pattaya. This practice is extremely common. Isaan is the poorest region of the country, and families will often send their children to Pattaya or Bangkok to make money, which they can then send home.
These “friends” the children and youth stay with are often anything but. The work starts relatively benign: sweep the bar, serve the patrons. But it slowly starts to escalate, drugs and alcohol are introduced, and eventually, the sex work begins.
Only the lucky, like Ton, make it out. Most live their entire lives in the industry, as they know no other life. Some men are even forced to become “ladyboys”, forced to change their very gender against their will, simply because it brings in more money.
When broken into age demographics, young boys are shown to be particularly at-risk. While one-quarter of all victims are male, over one-third of all trafficked children are male. In ages “0-8”, male victims make up 46% of all victims, nearly half.
The reasons why men are being trafficked are changing as well. Before 2012, it was estimated that nearly 99% of trafficked men and boys were used for labor, mostly in mines and fields. However, in the present day that number is closer to 75%, while almost 25% are now trafficked into the sex trade.
The first reason this happens could be the societal concept of masculinity and manliness. Just as Ton described, society often looks down upon men who have suffered these tragedies as if they somehow are less of a man because they couldn’t defend themselves. The ECPAT, in their study “And Boys Too”, commented that “it is a culture that portrays girls as vulnerable, weak and victims and men as strong, powerful and perpetrators.”
This could lead to underreporting, and fewer men seeking help. If there is societal shame associated with sharing your story, you won’t. You won’t share what happened, and you won’t seek help because doing so means admitting that it happened, sharing that it happened, and bringing on the shame associated with admitting you were a victim.
The second step is to engage the narrative. Find blogs, forums, or outreach groups dedicated to sex trafficking and be sure that all victims are being addressed, that male and female stories are being told. Advocate for support groups that support all genders and identities, and if you have the means donate your time or money to supporting them.
When Ton agreed to share his story, he did so for one reason and only one reason:
“If people hear my story, then they will know the reality we face. I know this happens to more men, I still know men stuck in the system. I want my story out there so that people will know, people will be angry, and people will fight for change. Then, maybe someday, this will stop happening.”
<a href=”https://www.ctdatacollaborative.org/story/human-trafficking-and-gender-differences-similarities-and-trends”>Connecticut Data Collaborative: Human Trafficking and Gender: Differences, Similarities, and Trends