II. Men and Boys Suffer from Sexual Violence at Rates Comparable to Women and Girls

A decade ago, after discovering that research regarding the experiences of male victims of human trafficking was grossly undeveloped and comparatively non-existent in academic literature, I wrote Invisible Man: The Conscious Neglect of Men and Boys in the War on Human Trafficking (“Invisible Man”). Invisible Man rested upon a series of jurisprudential and qualitative findings that established the falsity of the nation's conventional wisdom that human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is a categorical offense primarily perpetrated against women and girls. It reasoned that the constant portrayal of sex trafficking as an offense primarily perpetrated against women and girls, coupled with incessant descriptions of males as “criminals, cheaters, offenders, or victimizers of girls” encouraged legislatures to allocate resources firmly for women and girl victims, while not only ignoring male victims, but recasting them as victimizers.

Invisible Man noted that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), while gender-neutral in text, failed “to protect male victims of human trafficking.” The work reasoned that the TVPA's ineffectiveness at protecting male victims flowed directly from law enforcement professionals and service providers interpreting the sole purpose of the TVPA to be for the benefit of women and girls. Invisible Man examined the degree male victims were woefully unaccounted for in victim data-reporting sources, national statistics, and law enforcement data. It argued that the lack of attention afforded male victims of sex trafficking further contributed to the surreptitious trafficking of boys to feed “the high demand for child pornography,” which depicted more boys than girls in most circumstances.

Invisible Man explained that men and boys “frequently do not report their abuse” because socially imposed constructions of masculinity pressured men and boys to act self-reliant and invulnerable. Those findings, coupled with a well-entrenched societal distrust of males, generally, resulted in (1) a lack of funding for male oriented anti-sex trafficking programs, (2) a dearth of male victim treatment centers and shelters, and (3) routine use of definitional standards that excluded male-victims, all of which amounted to a societal neglect of male victims of sexual abuse.


A. Data Indicates that the Number of Male and Female Victims of Sexual Violence are Virtually Equal.

Since Invisible Man, a number of tragic occurrences have increased awareness regarding the wide degree that men and boys experience sexual violence. More than 40 former Black male students reported being sexually molested by a University of Michigan physician. Over 12,000 boys reported being sexually abused as Boy Scouts. In excess of 162 male students reported being sexually assaulted by a school official at Ohio State University. A shocking report that famed #MeToo leader, Asia Argento, had sexual relations with a male child provided new insight regarding the extent males experience sexual violence.

The U.S. Department of State has now aligned itself with the findings advanced in Invisible Man by its recognition that “men and boys represent nearly half of the total number of human trafficking victims,” but are more likely “to be neglected by government and service providers” because such programs are earmarked almost exclusively for women and girls. Similarly, a growing number of sexual victimization studies, along with approximately twenty-six scholarly publications since Invisible Man, have examined the plight of male survivors of sexual violence and also posited that the conventional wisdom that sexual offenses are male perpetrated crimes principally committed against females is patently false. For instance, noted masculinities theorist, Tommy Curry, reasons that, “men comprise a significant number, if not half, of rape victims in the United States,” and that “men and women report similar rates of nonconsensual sex.” Jennifer Lyons and Elisa Romano point to several studies to support their claim that boys suffer from sexual abuse at rates near or equal to women and girls. Their study examined the childhood sexual experiences of men in Canada and the United States. It revealed over 41% of the male participants reported being sexually exploited before reaching the age of 16, often by either a relative or an authority figure. Another study revealed that of all child prostitutes in the U.S., “31% of the juveniles were male,” and an analogous study regarding male victims of sexual abuse revealed that “nearly half of the victims were male.” Similarly, a survey of current or former child victims of sex trafficking in five Midwestern cities revealed that at least 21.7% were male. Jennifer Cole points to an analysis of the National Incident Based Reporting System, regarding the population of child victims of sexual exploitation in the U.S., which revealed that “38% of the juvenile victims ... were male.”

Other observers point to a comprehensive 2016 study that found boys comprise at least “36% of children caught up in the U.S. sex industry.” A 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey involving 40,000 households in the U.S., revealed that “38 percent of incidents [involving rape] were against men.” In addition, a 2014 study of 284 men and boys in college and high school found that 43% of them reported being sexually coerced, with the majority of coercive incidents resulting in unwanted sexual intercourse, and 95% of the males reporting the perpetrators were female. Lastly, a survey of 13,294 adolescents enrolled in grades seven to twelve in the U.S., revealed that 68% of students engaged in child prostitution were male.

What is particularly salient regarding the aforementioned findings is that although they indicate male sexual victimization rates generally hover around 35 to 68 percent, logic suggests that male sexual victimization rates may be higher for at least two reasons. First, males routinely conceal their sexual abuse because of anti-masculine shame, the fear of being wrongly casted as willing participants in their own sexual abuse, or being the object of ridicule. Second, for too many years Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) studies regarding the prevalence of “rape,” in the U.S., included only males who reported having “been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male.” A significant number of male victims of sexual violence who reported being “made to penetrate” another person - usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman, were “not classified as rape.” Even feminist commentators acknowledge that existing data indicates that “if being made to penetrate someone was counted as rape,” the data would reveal “that women rape men as often as men rape women.” Indeed, at least one CDC study regarding intimate partner violence revealed that “the rates of nonconsensual sexual contact basically equalized, with 1.270 million women and 1.267 million men claiming to be victims of sexual violence.” The landmark study commonly referred to as the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010 encompassed a long ignored category of sexual violence called, “being made to penetrate,” which included “victims who were forced to penetrate someone else with their own body parts, either by physical force or coercion, or when the victim was drunk or high or otherwise unable to consent ....”

For decades, male victims of sexual violence were largely excluded from many studies and crime statistics involving sexual violence because it was not until 2012 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) modified its definition of rape to include male victims. Prior to that time, the nation's top law enforcement agency released data regarding rape that wrongly excluded male rape victims. The more inclusive definition of rape now accounts for male victims. This much needed modification to criminal jurisprudence is particularly notable in light of harmful discoveries regarding Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of multiple male students at Pennsylvania State University, and emerging studies that indicate homosexual men commit sexual assault at rates at least comparable to that of heterosexual men.


B. Harmful Narratives regarding Masculinity and Sexual Violence.

A significant degree of political, academic, and social discourse is interspersed with claims that women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Through relentless and courageous social messaging, commentators and survivor advocates have skillfully defended the right of women and girls to live free of sexual violence and have positioned the protection of women and girls as a societal imperative.

Sexual victimization scholars observe, nonetheless, that implicit in the narrative that women and girls are routinely subjected to systemic forms of sexual violence are false presumptions that position males as almost always the “perpetrators” and rarely the “victims.” Heather Hlavka notes that boys are rarely viewed as victims of sexual violence because the great weight of social messaging dedicated to men and boys falsely casts them as self-reliant or privileged. Repetitive claims of male privilege and female suffering, Hlavka reasons, has led to a “hierarchy of sexual harm” within American culture that prioritizes the prevention of sexual violence against women and girls, while ignoring sexual violence against men and boys. As a consequence, stakeholders know comparatively very little about how men and boys experience sexual violence.

Curry notes that a significant degree of academic literature is fueled by “various myths” that sexual violence is largely gender specific and findings that run contrary to the “female victim-male perpetrator” narrative are “politically unpalatable.” Cole points to narratives that casts innocent males as pimps, purchasers of sexual services, or willing participants in their own sexual abuse - rather than victims of sexual violence, as central to the marginalization of male victims. Other commentators reason that current narratives are shaped by a societal intent to brand masculinity as intrinsically “toxic” so that males behave more “feminized.”

Mentally and emotionally constrained by societal narratives that position sexual violence against males as a rare occurrence, and contentions that real men “man up,” male victims of sexual violence often misperceive themselves as falling outside societal expectations of masculinity. Consequently, male victims of sexual violence suffer in silence to avoid the shame, stigma, emasculation, or fear of being perceived as gay or weak, which typically occurs when males disclose their sexual victimization. In some cases, societal narratives prompt some males to believe they cannot be sexually exploited.

The severe harm caused by a male's misinterpretation of his sexual victimization increases the possibility of the male becoming a victimizer, or a runaway, which amplifies the probability of the boy becoming a child prostitute, particularly, if he is between ages eleven and thirteen -the average age that boys typically become child prostitutes. Research reveals that male runaways that walk the streets are attractive targets to sexual predators or sex traffickers because the dire circumstances boys encounter often compel boy runaways to have sex in exchange for resources they need to stay alive. Runaways comprise “the largest population of child victims of sex trafficking,” accounting for an “estimated 75% of all child prostitutes,” with approximately half being boys.

Cole notes that boy prostitutes today are significantly more likely to misinterpret their sexual abuse as merely “hanging out” because it aligns with their psychological need to cope with the socially imposed shame boy victims experience and their strong desire to align with societal expectations of masculinity as virtually invulnerable.

So entrenched is the narrative that males are seldom vulnerable to the vagaries of sexual violence that legal guardians and relatives have been found to openly flaunt the sexual abuse of their own children. In one case, a gay couple, William and Zachary Zulock, allegedly molested their two elementary school-aged adopted sons, blatantly used social media platforms to prostitute their sons, and openly invited people to participate in sexually abusing the young boys. One man told investigators that one of the husbands sent him Snapchat messages, including one that read, “I'm going to f--my son tonight. Stand by,” which was accompanied by pictures of the husband sexually abusing his adopted son.

Such tragedies occur too often because boys who report sexual violence to child services workers may be ignored and returned to the custody of the foster parents that sexually abused them. Even when sexually abused boys report sexual abused by a family member to another family member, it is not inconceivable that the boy will be instructed that his sexual abuse is not a “big deal.” Cole warns that, “mothers on drugs allowing men to sleep with their boys for drugs,” unstable homes, or compromised parenting, are pathways to boy sexual victimization. In some cases, boys are so confused about the tension between their sexual victimization and persistent societal narratives depicting males as perpetrators rather than as victims that they often confide in the person that is sexually abusing them. For instance, in a case in which a boy's mother trafficked him for sex, the boy continued visiting her after he was removed from the mother's custody because he wanted to see her despite being afraid of her. In other cases, well-intended parents or legal guardians may be dangerously unsuspecting of the lingering threat child sex trafficking rings pose to their male children.

The mother of a male victim who was trafficked for sex for years without her knowledge, resolved that her son committed suicide because “[h]e couldn't deal with the torture and the shame of being prostituted.” The mother discovered that her son was a sex trafficking victim only after arrests of the sex traffickers were made public. When describing the “hopelessness and despair” her son silently endured before his death, the mother acknowledged that “the pain of not being able to help [her] son ... was insurmountable.” The mother's exceptionally tragic experience, at a minimum, underscores the suffering mother's experience as a result of misguided social narratives regarding sexual violence. It also shows the grave degree that sexual violence relegates boy victims to near perpetual states of isolation, despair, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other manifestations of sexual torture. It comes as no surprise that out of the nearly “two thousand [annual] suicides among fifteen to nineteen-year olds, 85 percent are boys.”

For Black boys, their youth experiences are subject to a unique brand of perilous social conditions because they typically are denied the imprint of childish innocence their White counterparts enjoy. Despite their desire to be seen as masculine, strong or self-reliant, their struggle to attain manhood is dependent on them constricting their masculinity so that others feel comfortable enough not to perceive them as a threat. Undeservedly viewed as “sexual brutes,” Black boy victims of sexual violence are rarely accepted as victims, and, consequently, denied support when they disclose their sexual abuse. Ultimately, some Black boys come to believe their death or sexual victimization is only a matter of time and that they are of nobody's concern.

The incessant manifestation of anti-Black male bias that Black boys experience lead them to endorse harmful anti-Black male stereotypes that increases their vulnerability to sexual violence. Their vulnerability to sexual violence correlates with their increased rates of indiscriminate arrests at an early age that lead to their being sent to facilities where they are routinely raped or sexually assaulted. Scholars note that “among diverse groups of men, young Black males experience statutory rape, sexual coercion, and sexual manipulation more than other groups.”

Despite freely accessible data that indicates the alarming degree to which Black boys suffer because of their maleness, racial justice discourse focuses squarely on harm relative to race or ethnicity, leaving the sexual violence that Black boys experience unexplored. Consequently, the daily lives of Black boys is diminished by the perpetual threat of sexual violence. This constant state of oppression is exacerbated by the fact that mothers of many Black boys are “not able to turn to middle class safety nets in the same way as their white counterparts” because police officers, and other authority figures, are perceived as “potential predators” who threaten the survival or emotional well-being of their Black sons. The tragedies too many mothers endure, in part, because of anti-Black male bias, accentuates the need for greater cultural awareness regarding the methods sexual predators use to target potential male victims, which have proven to be enormously threatening in scope.

For instance, in 2018, police officials discovered the existence of a sex trafficking ring in Connecticut that had been preying on boys for more than two decades. Officials identified at least fifteen victims, but believed the sex trafficking ring sexually exploited dozens more. The traffickers specifically targeted boys who were developmentally disabled, mentally impaired, or addicted to drugs, and often lured boys from drug rehabilitation centers. They provided the boys with highly addictive drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, and then took the impaired boys to perform sex for older men in exchange for payment to the sex trafficker.

Child pornography also operates as a catalyst for the sex trafficking of boys. The United States accounts for approximately 37% of all child sexual abuse internet sites that facilitate sex trafficking. Despite established prohibitions against child pornography, there has been a global increase in the manufacture and distribution of child pornography over the last decade, as tens of millions of child sexual abuse images and videos are shared every year. Today, global child pornography rings that specialize in targeting boys continue to be discovered. In some regions, boys comprise the majority of child victims.

To cite but one example, after Invisible Man revealed the degree to which boys are vulnerable to child pornography rings, the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and Homeland Security officials discovered, “one of the largest [child pornography] operations ever uncovered,” which involved use of a secret website to victimize at least 250 children, mostly boys, and approximately 27,000 subscribers. At the time authorities dismantled the child pornography ring, the website contained “more than 2,000 shared webcam-captured videos of mostly juvenile boys,” between the ages of three and seventeen, from thirty-nine States, with twenty-three of the child victims hailing from other countries. U.S. officials maintained that never in the history of ICE had the agency located so many victims during the course of a single child commercial sexual exploitation investigation. Discovery of the vast child pornography network is representative of the thriving public safety threat child pornography poses to males. Nonetheless, research regarding the impact of child pornography rings on males remains glaringly underdeveloped in today's purported climate of sexual violence awareness.

Despite credible data that indicates males comprise a statistically comparable percentage of victims of sexual violence, the notion that males suffer high rates of sexual abuse likely strikes most as absurd because it contradicts modern day expressions of male privilege. Consequently, the sex trafficking of males has little or no presence in historical or contemporary anti-trafficking legislation. Neither the TVPA, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, nor the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2017, despite being meritorious achievements, specifically require gender inclusivity or direct child services agencies or law enforcement personnel to safeguard against anti-male bias so that male victims are not ignored. Some states even require male child victims of statutory rape to pay child support upon reaching adulthood for any offspring resulting from sexual abuse by an adult.

Although the U.S. State Department 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP”) makes clear that there is a serious need to “increase access to victim services” for men and boys in the U.S., observers have found that there are “zero screening tools that have been developed specifically to screen males for sexual abuse.” Consequently, sexual abuse victim treatment programs that address physical and mental health needs unique to male victims of sexual violence continue to be virtually nonexistent. A 2012 survey of child sex trafficking provider organizations revealed that while 36% were exclusively for female victims, none of the programs were exclusively for boys, and of thirty-three operational residential programs identified, only two accepted male victims. Likewise, when opening a shelter in North Carolina for male victims of sex trafficking, journalist Heather Sells found that only one other shelter existed for male children in the United States. Judge Jane Cork, who presides over cases in Minnesota involving male victims of sex trafficking, observed that there is “a complete lack of services for male victims” of sex trafficking and only “one of four ... shelters has a bed for boys, but most of the shelters do not even take boys.”