And Boys Too: Sexual Exploitation in the U.S.

11/13/2014 10:00



[Note:  Please read the Executive Summary of the report by ECPAT on the sexual exploitation of boys in illegal human trafficking in the United States.  The full report is only 20 pages and very informative.  An ECPAT-USA discussion paper about the lack of recognition of the commercial sexual exploitation of boys in the United States (20 pages) -- DNI]


This study was designed by Brian Willis, JD, MPH, Health Advisor to ECPAT-USA and carried out by Norene Robert and Brian Willis. The report is written by Sara Ann Friedman, adapted from Norene Roberts paper, The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Young Men in the United States.  We are extremely grateful to the 40 informants who took the time to answer survey questions. We are also indebted to the experts who read the draft study and gave substantive content.


Needed: A Spotlight on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys


Many youth talked at length about the shame, stigma, degradation and loneliness that they felt. They added that being labeled and stigmatized by their family, peers, and society overall, left them with low self-esteem and self-worth, which often resulted in an inability to leave the life. Besides the self-loathing that they experienced from participating in CSEC markets, one of the youths' biggest dislikes was providing sexual services to strangers, and the risk of being raped or killed weighed most on their minds.

The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City, 2008


Executive Summary


The long-existing commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in the United States began to gain attention after the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) and its reauthorizations in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2013. During this period, nearly all the attention of state and local governments, law enforcement, and service providers has been focused on sexually exploited adolescent girls.  While there has been some increased awareness about sexually exploited boys in the U.S. over the past several years, most law enforcement and services providers often miss them entirely or view them as too few to be counted or not in need of services. The little notice given to boys primarily identifies them as exploiters, pimps and buyers of sex, or as active and willing participants in sex work, not as victims or survivors of exploitation. [1]   Discussion of boys as victims or survivors of CSEC is frequently appended to a discussion about commercially sexually exploited girls. A panel discussion about commercial sexual exploitation often ends with these words: and boys too.


While awareness of commercial sexual exploitation of boys (CSEB) has paled next to that of commercial sexual exploitation of girls (CSEG), two important studies in the past 12 years, The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico by Estes and Weiner (2001) and The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City by Curtis et al. (2008), have estimated that high percentages of commercially sexually exploited children in the U.S. are boys. In order to examine why CSEB receive much less attention and to question the widespread popular assumptions that they are willing participants or even exploiters and not victims, ECPAT-USA has carried out a study to examine available information about CSEB, their participation in CSEC, and services available to them. The study conducted a number of desk reviews that were supplemented by interviews with 40 key service providers and youth agencies.


The research explored several questions relating to the existence and circumstances of CSEB: Do they exist?  What are their backgrounds? Who are their exploiters? At what age are they exploited? What are their needs and what services are available to meet those needs? Although many of the answers were inconclusive, several clear findings and messages stood out. Most significantly, responses from service providers clearly indicate that the scope of CSEB is vastly under reported, that commercial sexual exploitation poses very significant risks to their health and their lives; that gay and transgenders are over-represented as a proportion of the sexually exploited boys; and that there is a shortage of services for these boys. The fact that boys and young men may be less likely to be pimped or trafficked highlights the fact that even if there is no third party involved in the commercial transaction, "buyers/exploiters" of sexually exploited children should be prosecuted under anti-trafficking statutes.

Based on our research and responses from service providers, ECPAT-USA proposes a number of  recommendations. Two immediate needs are clear: first, to raise awareness about the scope of CSEB and second, to expand research about which boys are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and how to meet their needs.


[1.]  For an example see: Cates, J. (1989). Adolescent Male Prostitution by Choice. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 6(2), 151-156. For further analysis see:  Dennis, J. (2008). Women are Victims, Men Make Choices: The Invisibility of Men and Boys and young men in the Global Sex Trade. Gender Issues, 25(1), 11-25.