Human trafficking service organizations in Scotland recently reported identifying two new male victims. But they weren't working in factories, farming fields, or constructing buildings like many other male trafficking victims. They were being forced into prostitution. Are these two cases unusual outliers or the beginning of a new trend of trafficking men into prostitution?
The two men in question were trafficked from Africa (countries not specified) into Scotland separately. One was forced to make pornography and the other was sold into traditional street prostitution. Both men, however, thought they were accepting non-sexual jobs in Scotland, only to be forced to have sex once they arrived. Male prostitution is not a new phenomenon in Scotland, with about 400 male escorts listed on the web. But most of those have been Scottish men who chose to go into the industry. There have been some cases of homelessness or drug addiction forcing men to sell sex acts, but those cases have thus far been relatively rare.
As it turns out, men trafficked into commercial sex may actually have a great deal in common with women in the same situation. Julian Heng, who manages a support project for men in prostitution, says that male and female sex trafficking victims likely have the same repeat clients. That's because sex with someone held against their will isn't about sexual pleasure or orientation, he says. It's about power and control. Men rape male trafficking victims for the same reason they rape female trafficking victims — because they want to assert their control. Even the act of paying for sex, for some men, is a way of exercising control.
The stigma around male prostitution, voluntary or not, is even higher than it is for women. Male buyers of sex who consider themselves straight may be more ashamed to be caught buying sex from a man than a woman. The male victims of forced prostitution, however, are victims regardless of their orientation. A gay man forced into commercial sex is no less a victim of sex trafficking than a straight man in those same circumstances, because both are being made to have sex against their will. Being forced to engage in sex with other men (as opposed to women) may bring up cultural and social mores which add another layer of victimization for some men, but that can be the case for men of any sexual orientation.
While some of the anti-trafficking organizations in Scotland seem concerned that the sex trafficking of men will be a growing trend, I'm not. Certainly, it exists, but these cases are exceeding rare when compared with the numbers of women and girls trafficked into commercial sex. What is of more concern, however, is the number of young boys trafficked into commercial sex as children, some of whom may remain in the industry as adults. Boys are less likely to report all forms of sexual abuse, including trafficking, than girls because of added stigma. Therefore, much less is known about the sex trafficking of boys. But reports indicate that especially in some areas of the world like Southeast Asia, it is alarmingly high.
Even if male prostitution is considerably less common than female prostitution, it is important to have tools and services for men in and leaving the industry, whether they ended up there by choice, chance, or force.