by Lisa Bates
Warning: this article contains details that may be very upsetting to some people. Possible Triggers.
I used to have trouble, wrapping my mind around the idea of parents selling their children to pedophiles. But, as I have learned more about it, I have to admit that it is one of the two main roads into child prostitution.1 The other one is when runaway children are approached and taken in by pimps, usually within 48 hours after leaving home.2
But, that is a story for another time.
This tale begins in Scotland. A set of three little boys, who were triplets, lived with their very poor family. The grandfather was approached by a seemingly nice man who offered a large sum of money to take the boys and raise them. It seemed like a perfect solution for the boys. But in fact, he ran a “puppy mill” (a place where young boys can be purchased for sex; it is named after the unethical practice of keeping dogs in cages simply to reproduce). At the time of the offer, the money seemed to be the only way that the family could survive; so the grandfather agreed to take it, and turned the boys over to the man who seemed to have come to their rescue. They were only 9 years old.
The boys became his possessions. They were required to do whatever the Alpha (their owner) and his customers desired, and it was mostly sexual. It was frequently necessary for them to perform together, and then with the men who became excited by watching them, but it was not only about the sex. Puppy mill boys are used as assassins, and drug smugglers, as well as for sexual gratification. They are objects, sold for anything the Alpha needs. In general, they are expendable and easily replaced.
However, many pedophiles consider it especially erotic to have experiences with twins or triplets, so these boys were very valuable to the Alpha. They were in demand. The boys were sold, and re-sold, they were shipped from Scotland to Ireland, and then sold again and shipped to England. Later, they were sold to an Organized Crime Syndicate, and imported to the United States. In all, they were shipped to 9 different locations.
During all of this upheaval, one of the triplets had a “problem” with running away. It was simply not tolerated. First, their Alpha drove a bolt between the tendon and the bone in his leg, and chained him to the wall. When that did not cure him, he was beaten to death in front of the other boys, as an example. They were 12 years old when they watched their brother die.
The two remaining boys were separated when they came to the USA. One of them was sent to a more “controlled” mill, a place that used a lot of beatings, because he was a “trouble pup.” The other twin was sent to private homes, because he was more docile and easy to control. They still had the desirability of twins; the Alpha only separated them because of the need to maintain absolute control. But, after the last place, which was controlled by the Mob, found out that they were twins, they were reunited to perform a live “erotic cinema” for paying customers, who would then join in. They were 17 years old, and living in a mill with 17 other boys.
Some of the boys had originally been sold to an Alpha, like the twins, but the majority were runaways or throwaways who were brought into the mills within 48 hours of leaving home. One fertile source for the Alphas is gay youth who are thrown out of their homes, just as they are discovering their own sexuality, in very early puberty. If the parents can not accept their children as lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender, they often simply throw the children out of the home so that they do not have to deal with them.1
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the number of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.2 When children are picked up, after being thrown away by their families, they find themselves in anything from a Mob controlled puppy mill, to a bar that has back rooms for rental of boys.3 They are considered “twinks” until they are about 22 or 23, when they lose the premium value of their stolen youth.
But, the twins were very, very, fortunate. They were only 19 when they came in contact with a loose network of about 45 ex-pups who still have access to the mills; and who work undercover to get some of the boys off the streets and away from the system. The twins were rescued, and taken in by the ex-prostitutes. The boys were then connected with lawyers, investigators, and the legal system. The puppy mill was investigated, and hopefully the Alpha and his cronies were prosecuted.
The ex-pup network does not stop there. They teach the boys skills and get them jobs, or even pay for higher education so they can become independent and healthy adults. The twins met a man who helped with their rescue, and who identifies himself as a “32 year old gender queer.” They came to trust this man, and told him their story. He was the source for this article. They told him many more horrifying details of their time as sex slaves, but there is no reason to go into all of that here.
The main reason why this man came forward with their story is to raise awareness that sexual traffickers do not only prey on young girls. He wanted to point out the statistics on the high numbers of lesbian, gay and transgender youth who are thrown out of their homes and are never missed,until they are picked up by traffickers. He also wanted to draw attention to the fact that the young men working in the sex trade, under the control of Alphas, are truly victims, even though they are being forced to break the law. When they are picked up in police “stings” and given criminal records for prostitution, they are only forced farther from regular society.4 They need a strong, understanding, support system to have a chance at a normal life. The loose organization of ex-pups provides that for them, but it is heartbreaking how many pups they simply can not reach to help.
It has been a year since the twins were rescued, and they are doing very well, One works full-time as a bartender, and is thinking about going to school. The other has sight and hearing issues; but he was given a seeing-eye dog. He is involved in the training for the dog, and has a place to live for the rest of his life with a dear friend.
Not all stories have a happy ending. “The Department of Justice estimates that more than 250,000 American youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation… and youth older than 12 are prime targets for sexual exploitation by organized crime units.” 1The number of children who are simply sold or are kicked out by their parents is unknown. This is an enormous problem in the United States and worldwide. To be able to achieve a normal life, these children, and the sex workers that they become, need to be literally rescued, deprogrammed, and supported, while they recover from this unspeakable abuse. Arresting them for prostitution is completely counter-productive, and public policy needs to reflect that understanding. Finally, resources need to be made available for concerned parties to rescue and rehabilitate these lost boys.
1 “Young people are recruited into prostitution through forced abduction, pressure from parents, or through deceptive agreements between parents and traffickers.” http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking
2“These children generally come from homes where they have been abused or from families who have abandoned them.”http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking
5 “Various organizational types exist in trafficking. Some perpetrators are involved with local street and motorcycle gangs, others are members of larger nationwide gangs and criminal organizations, and some have no affiliation with any one group or organization.” http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking
6[victims of sex trafficking] were arrested and thrown into jail, and that the police treated them like criminals, even when they knew they were minors. Often times, police officers solicited their services, the girls said, or they had relationships with pimps. “They would just send me to jail and keep me here for like a couple of months, then they’d release me thinking everything’s good,” M.S. said. “I was scared to run to the police or cops or something because you know… I don’t think they’d really listen. They try to set up a date with you knowing that you were a minor. They didn’t care.” http://abcnews.go.com/US/domestic-sex-trafficking-increasing-united-states/story?id=10557194
“When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory, or on a fishing, boat or in a field; working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”
-President Barack Obama
It is estimated that more than 20 million men, women and children around the world are victims of human trafficking. The United States is a source, transit and destination country for some of these men, women and children — both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals — who are subjected to the injustices of human trafficking, including forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking. Trafficking in persons can occur in both lawful and illicit industries or markets, including in brothels, massage parlors, street prostitution, hotel services, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, construction, health and elder care, and domestic service, among others.
“I am afraid to go home. My father’s friends used to rape me weekly and said if I told anyone they would bring shame to my family.” This statement was made by a teenage girl I interviewed in India recently as part of my research into rehabilitation processes for survivors of sex trafficking. To escape this abusive home situation, she ran away, and in the process was trafficked from Bangladesh to India. She spent two years in a brothel before being rescued by Rescue Foundation. She was 14 years old.
It is estimated that 27 million slaves are being held worldwide, with the most common form being sexual exploitation of women and girls, according to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report for 2012. International Women’s Day marks a time to celebrate the victories of women’s rights across the world, but it is also a call to act together against sex trafficking – around the world and in the United States.
For close to two years, I saw the reality of sex trafficking first hand as I lived in India and worked with an organization that rescued girls from commercial sexual exploitation. When I moved to Harrisburg, Penn. to work at Messiah College, I was surprised to hear that a similar subculture existed in my own backyard. Carlisle, near Harrisburg, is one of the bigger hubs for trafficking in the East Coast of the United States due to a stretch of trucker motels and gas stations off of main highways.
What can be done about this global and complex problem? Here are three key ways that you can make a difference.
1. Get educated
Contact organizations like Polaris Project or the National Research Consortium for Commercial Sexual Exploitation for more information about trafficking issues in your area, and guidance for what is needed to help.
Learn about the factors that foster vulnerability to trafficking such as poverty, unsafe migration, subcultures of gender discrimination, lack of education, demand, and lack of law enforcement. Investigate reputable organizations like International Justice Mission or GEMS, examine their approaches to combat trafficking, and consider volunteering or supporting their interventions.
2. Get involved
There are many organizations that can suggest ways to get involved in the fight against sex trafficking, both globally and locally. But sometimes, an individual’s best help is to be alert and ask questions.
Eldon Fry, campus minister for Messiah College, told me this story: “We met a person at Harrisburg International Airport from the Philippines via Qatar headed for Pittsburgh. It sounded fishy so we intervened, and she was ultimately rescued by Homeland Security. We have stayed connected, and she is receiving support from the Polaris Project and is waiting for trial against her “employer,” who was poised to traffick her.”
Ashley Sheaffer, a faculty member at Messiah College, monitors Craigslist for Harrisburg, Carlisle, and Philadelphia for advertisements that might be associated with trafficking and reports them to partner organizations that work with law enforcement to rescue women who have been trafficked.
These are two examples of people in ordinary communities doing their part in the fight against sex trafficking.
3. Organize and take action
If you see genuine needs that you can help with that are not being covered by existing services, organize a team and a strategy with clear objectives. Your strategy should include partnerships with reputable organizations locally or globally to strengthen and coordinate interventions.
Approaches can include intervening in areas where women are trafficked from, through programs like education and micro-economic development to empower vulnerable populations and help with survivor re-integration. Other approaches can include intervening in areas where women are trafficked to, through services like raising awareness, education, advocacy, housing, counseling, legal assistance, and job training.
Reflect regularly on what is working, what is not working, and why. Build in a feedback system to partner organizations for continual learning, guidance, and accountability.”
Triveni Acharya, winner of the 2008 Woman of Peace Award and president of Rescue Foundation told me, “Sex trafficking, or modern day slavery, is not only a criminal justice issue, but a human rights issue. It prevents women the freedom to make their own decisions, which is their fundamental right.” On International Women’s Day – and beyond – we should remember that we can all play a part in combating the sex trafficking that strips women of those rights.