Men and Trafficking: Not Just Perpetrators

By Kathleen Walsh


Are men in more danger than we thought?

Whilst the idea of the human trafficking trade is commonly associated with women forced into trafficking, men and boys are increasingly being identified as victims of human trafficking, making up at least 29% of the trade. From 2006 when 12% of victims recognized were male, in 2014 21% of victims of human trafficking were recognized as male. This includes not only trafficking for forced labour (1 in 4 of all human trafficking victims) — found in sectors like mining, forestry, construction, health care, agriculture and more — but on the sex trade too. For example, in Afghanistan, men use younger boys for social and sexual entertainment, known as bacha baazi. In the United States, men and boys are exploited in commercial sex.


Gender stereotypes limit available assistance

The trafficking of men remains a neglected issues. Men are underrepresented in the fight against human trafficking. This leads to less help from government and service providers, since shelters, campaigns and rehabilitation are geared towards females. Authorities, such as immigration officers, labour inspectors, and police, often do not recognize male victims due to the tendency to perceive males as less likely victims of human trafficking or even to view the entire system of human trafficking as exclusively the sex trafficking of girls and women, a myopic view that misses slave labour and other acts of crime against humans.

Men’s stories are often underreported too, even though we know from the statistics that more and more cases are being identified.

Forced labour often creates mind sets in survivors that they were at fault within the situation or even that the forced labour is to be accepted as part of the process of labour migration. 63% of the victims detected between 2012 and 2014 for forced labour were men.

Men often sense a need to create a strong, brave front and are also ashamed to identify themselves as victims of sexual offense by reporting these crimes.

No one is excluded from vulnerability as a human being, and no person should be without the undiscriminated support that is required to eliminate the horror of human trafficking.

Further statistics

  • Of male victims identified in trafficking cases3:
  • 85.7% were trafficked for forced labour
  • 6.8% for sexual exploitation
  • 1% for organ removal
  • 6.5% for other types of exploitation
  • Types of trafficking by gender:
  • Sexual exploitation: 96% female, 4% male
  • Trafficking for forced labour: 37% female, 63% male
  • Trafficking for organ removal: 18% female, 82% male
  • Other types of exploitation: 76% female, 24% male

The role of men as perpetrators and consumers

63% of trafficking convictions are men, which is actually lower than other organized crimes. Men are also more likely to purchase sex than women, and consume a greater percentage of porn (although this gap appears to be getting smaller).

But we have to look beyond this to understand what drives Human Trafficking. The perpetrators and consumers of the human trafficking industry range from the kidnapper to those buying pornographic media, from the pimp to the consumer who purchases goods without researching the history of the product.

It’s easy to point the finger at pimps and kidnappers, but there are many systems in our world that allow for human trafficking, and not all of them are explicitly obvious. Some men, especially end consumers, will not realise the extent of the abuse that has been a part of making the product possible. This can even be the case for a person doing the trafficking (see the story of Jacob, an ex-trafficker). Understanding that human trafficking is not always obvious will assist the public and the relevant NPOs as we select people to educate and share these stories with.


Men needed in the fight against Human Trafficking

Firmer action from authorities in countries, clamping down on human trafficking, will definitely go a long way. It is worth mentioning that in most countries, men carry more influence than women in more sectors and for that reason alone we need men to leverage the influence they have to help end human trafficking.

For human trafficking to come to a complete halt, we will need both genders to work together. Already it is clear that men as well as women are victims and both men and women are found in the circles of power responsible for human trafficking.

The truth is, men need to support other men in decreasing the demand for human trafficking. Where one man has overcome his personal struggle with pornography addiction for example, he can support a brother, a cousin, a co-worker in overcoming the same. A particularly useful relationship is that of a father and a son. Every boy needs a role model, and if he trusts the word of his role model on the issue of gender based violence over the example of his peers, we have won battles before they even begin. (Fightthenewdrug.org is a good resource for peer to peer or mentorship education.) This system of personal interaction and accountability has a unique power and cannot be replaced by women advocating for women’s rights. Men understand other men and are understood by other men uniquely; men need to walk with each other in this fight too.

What can you do?

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Awareness is a huge need in South Africa — the average South African doesn’t know that Human Trafficking is a problem in our country. Email admin@hopeforwomen.co.za for more details on our Anti-Human Trafficking Workshops.

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