Photo: AP

The UN’s recent reports on the treatment of children in Syria and in the Roman Catholic Church revealed some of the despicable acts committed against boys that are part of a disturbing and hidden global trend.

The Good Men Project / February 17, 2014

by Cameron Conaway

They are the forgotten many. The afterthought. The tacked-on obligatory mention at the end of a sentence, if that. Some university classes on human trafficking fail to mention them alongside “girls and women” in their syllabi. But there they are being used as soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and as slaves in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, the shipbreaking yards of Bangladesh, the farmlands of Florida and the fishing villages of Ghana. And there they are, as detailed in recent reports from the UN, being used as human shields in Syria and as sex slaves in the Roman Catholic Church. Can we talk about this now? Is it okay to talk about this?

Preface: Addressing the disposability of boys is not ignoring or in any way minimizing the appalling situations many of our world’s girls and women are enduring right now. Addressing the disposability of boys is addressing the disposability of boys. There is often hostility when this topic is brought up because there’s the assumption that the speaker is choosing sides. This isn’t a game and there are no sides.

***

On February 4, 2014 the UN released its first detailed findings on the treatment of children in Syria. The “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic” contained text perhaps even more damning due to its comprehensive details than the alleged torture photographs that were released weeks ago and that a team of war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts deemed “direct evidence” of the “systematic torture and killing” by the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. One excerpt on page 4 stated:

Boys aged 12 to 17 years were trained, armed and used as combatants or to man checkpoints.”

This falls perfectly in line with why boys are often selected around the world for use as slave laborers. Comparatively, boys tend to be more physical, stronger, and more physically aggressive than girls and are therefore more preferred when it comes to the often backbreaking work of slave labor. While some communities have tried to eradicate this notion that boys are more physical and physically aggressive than girls, Dr. Michael Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, believes the difference is clear but admitted to PBS Parents that he isn’t precisely sure why:

Why are some young boys more aggressive than girls? We don’t know for sure. We think that boys are predisposed to higher activity levels as a result of androgens (male hormones) inutero. However, it is not, as many people believe, a result of testosterone in the blood, because before puberty, boys and girls have the same level. What we know is that boys in all cultures around the world wrestle more, mock fight more, and are drawn to themes of power and domination, but that’s not the same as hurting someone, so it’s not necessarily a cause for worry.”

Dr. Thompson’s statement about “boys in all cultures of the world” aligns with what I learned about human trafficking during my two and a half years living in and traveling throughout Asia. Whether it was Nepal or the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Myanmar, it was simply more acceptable for boys to perform the most grueling forms of physical labor, especially when it was the kind of labor that may lead to disease or permanent disfigurement.

Some posit that this acceptance is a direct result of how cultures have been socially conditioned to see gender roles due to the way religious attitudes and/or patriarchal cultures have demarcated them. While this influence certainly can carry over into secular societies, it seems there’s a more pervasive form of social conditioning at work; one that views boys, regardless of age, as young men; one that views their more physical behavior as the seed of manhood—a time when, at least conceptually, they’ll no longer be seen as vulnerable and will instead be capable of preying on those who are truly vulnerable. The result? Boys who will be men are judged as though they are men. This is harmful both for boys and for the men who then live under the socially conditioned false narrative that believes they are invulnerable.

Nowhere was this more apparent to me than in the shipbreaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Security guards dressed in blue leaf camouflage pointed their semi-automatic machine guns directly at me (after making sure I didn’t have a camera, notebook or phone), and I watched in horror as one tiny boy after another dragged their feet through toxic shoreline sludge in order to lift with their bare hands the rusted anchor chains. The black plumed skies lit up red as other boys took turns using the blowtorch. I have no idea if there’s hell in the afterlife but that scene showed me for damn sure that there’s hell in this life.

Workers carrying a piece of anchor chain to the shipbreaking backyards / Pierre Torset

“Boys don’t grow up into men revered for their beauty,” one villager who lives just outside the yards told me through a translator. This was his response upon my asking where the girls and women were. Rather than say where they were he seemed to take my question as a point of contention, as a matter of pride. My translator later told me that although these men hate their jobs, have seen friends die because of it and know they themselves are dying because of it, they take an incredible amount of pride in it because they see themselves as entirely “expendable,” sacrificing their own life for that of their wife and kids.

ex·pend·a·ble: of little significance when compared to an overall purpose, and therefore able to be abandoned, designed to be used only once and then destroyed, e.g. unstaffed and expendable launch vehicles

Through asking the villager additional questions I learned that the girls and women either stayed home to prepare food for the shipbreakers or, if they were employed, worked as seamstresses, sometimes in Dhaka, a 6-hour bus ride away. These seamstress jobs are essentially slavery as well, but due to international news coverage about collapsing factories (locals wonder if this ever would have made the news had it not been for the fact that these factories produce goods for world-renowned brands) and because more members of the community rallied around the rights of these girls and women, some positive changes were made and others are in progress.

But few rally behind the boys and men. In fact, what I saw at the yards didn’t seem any different from what Gary Cohn and Will Englund described in their 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles titled The Shipbreakers. The boys and men are expected either to suck it up and find solace in their disposability or rally for themselves which, when they have, often seems to coincide with the time when, as Muhammad Ali Shahin, Program Manager for Advocacy at Young Power in Social Action, told me:

Dead and non-identified workers…get thrown out to sea, leaving a widow and children with no news and no income.”

Speaking particularly of boys he told me, “They are considered machines; if one dies another will replace him.”

When I told Muhammad what the villager told me about boys growing up, he said:

That’s right. Men are revered when they are physically strong leaders. And the yard owners pretend this is what they are ‘making’ the boys into. Truth is, they aren’t making them into anything. They are breaking them into pieces.”

dis·pos·a·ble: intended to be used once, or until no longer useful, and then thrown away, e.g. disposable razors. Also: financial assets readily available for the owner’s use

The Syria report also stated that “many boys felt it was their duty” to take up arms. Might some part of this feeling of duty, this willingness to protect, be an intrinsic part of boyhood? Many believe so. In Absent, a documentary about the impact of fatherlessness, John Eldredge, author of the controversial Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, says:

Earlier cultures understood that there’s a warrior in the heart of a boy… Boys are wired for adventure, and boys are wired for aggression.”

It was clear that in this context Eldredge was referring to “wiring” of the genetic type. But while every boy is of course an individual and while such generalized statements can certainly be debated, one can make a stronger case by stating that it is perhaps a combination of male genetics and the socially constructed roles we’ve played for thousands of years that have reinforced the male expression of certain aggressive characteristics.

A modern-day application of these ideas shows us that here we are in the 21st century C.E., a time of desk jobs where those qualities of physicality and aggression that have found necessary and healthy outlets for thousands of years have been replaced with sitting all day, an act which men seem particularly maladjusted; a time when even roughhousing with dad is seen as unproductive; a time when boys are increasingly penalized for not being able to sit still throughout an entire school day (and are substantially more often misdiagnosed with ADHD); a time when 43% of children grow up without their father and therefore often without a male role model who they can look up to and say, “Yes, that’s how to channel what I’m feeling.”

Note: No, Hanna Rosin, this doesn’t mean The End of Men; it means The End of Putting Men in a Box and Pretending That What Happens Beyond the Box Doesn’t Effect Them.

***

A 10-year-old fixes a car in an automobile workshop. / AP

Eldredge finished the segment with:

And aggression is good. I mean, you want a boy to stand up as a man to apartheid, right? You want him to stand up to injustice, then he has to have something in him that’s learned that there are good forms of aggression.”

However, perhaps more telling is the “nurture” side of why the boys in Syria “felt it was their duty.” They look around, see the dominating and abusive men in power, see the way girls and women are treated, and all the while they are being groomed and encouraged to grow up and be like those dominating and abusive men in power. If there’s something innate within them, so too is there a cultural influence channeling the “warrior in the heart” in destructive ways.

We’ve known of the influences that shape adolescent aggression since the 1970’s, when Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory took root. Now considered essential  study in most academic departments of criminology around the world, Bandura’s theory put forth the notion that violent tendencies are modeled, and that children in particular learn aggression from observing others. “Virtually all learning experiences resulting from direct experiences,” Bandura wrote in 1976, “can occur on a vicarious basis through observation of other people’s behavior and its consequences for the observer,” (See PDF).

Might this difference in natural and experiential physicality and aggression be why boys, according to most reports on modern slavery, are used more often as disposable “hard” labor slaves, such as in cocoa fields, whereas girls are more often subjected to domestic work slavery?

In circling back to the word “trained,” as used in the UN report on children in Syria, I think instead of the term “brainwashing” and particularly of a child’s vulnerability to both the short-term and long-term effects of it. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child:

Adverse conditions such as abuse, neglect, community violence, and persistent poverty can disrupt brain architecture and place children at a disadvantage with regard to the development of their executive func­tion skills.”

With all of this in mind a twofold purpose for “training” surfaces:

(1) To use boys until they can’t be used anymore (i.e. until death, injury, disease, prosecution, the job is done). Some mistakenly believe their culture can flourish even when boys are expendable because even in death the labor garnered from their expendability leaves behind development (e.g. railroad tracks, tools built from the steel of dismantled ships, homes paid for with cotton harvest money, etc.). As a refugee aid worker once told me, “When girls are only valued for their future ability to give birth, and boys only for the sweat of their labor…we’re in a bad place.”

(2) To instill within the boy slaves the attitudes and behaviors that will make of them physically strong leaders. There’s the assumption that if boys don’t become disabled, diseased or die from the work that the work will make them into “real” men—the definition of which is at once represented by and habitually manipulated by those in power for the sake of exploiting those who are not.

This assumption, to use another example, plays out in different but equally devastating ways in Cambodia.

When I visited First Step Cambodia, an NGO in Phnom Penh that works to rescue and heal boys who have been victims of sexual abuse, I learned about a phrase that translates as “boys are pure gold.” It’s tempting to think this first means “valuable” but that definition is secondary. What the phrase truly means is that boys can be burned, beaten and smashed and yet still be gold. The meaning here is that they’re tough, they don’t complain, they grow to be men where they enter into another phase, one that translates as “man with 5 hat chest.” A hat is a measurement term in Cambodia that equals about ½ meter. A “man with 5 hat chest” can be likened to our version of the macho man, the tough guy.

While the body undergoes dramatic changes when going from boy to man, the masculine psyche merely congeals. This culturally-rooted idea can then be applied in sweeping layers when a boy finds the courage to tell an adult that he was raped. Because it’s believed that he can endure great punishment and yet still be “pure gold,” often there are times when no action will be taken (either against the perpetrator or to support the healing of the boy) until that boy can show the damage done or, to put it bluntly, until there’s blood.

Check out California’s Prison Overcrowding State of Emergency Proclamation / AP

This assumption is by no means merely the problem of “other” countries. Let’s take a look at just one aspect of our own. The United States has defined itself as perhaps the world’s greatest believer in the myth that subjecting its boys and men to “punishment,” i.e., incarceration, will somehow magically resolve the underlying problems that brought them to be incarcerated in the first place. We don’t see our young boys in the juvenile justice system, for example, as pure gold; rather, we see them as the specks of dirt within their gold. We see them as the sum of their crime.

I once taught poetry in an all-female juvenile detention center, even wrote a book about the experience, so I’m fully aware of the lack of services and resources that girls receive in this regard. However, in working with boys who have been in and out of the juvenile justice system I can’t even count how many of their conversations or essays or poems were about how members of their family and staff members within the system regarded them—their full human selves—as nothing more than their crimes (a vast majority of which were petty theft). They were often “treated like a monster.”

The go-to method for helping them get back on track wasn’t through understanding and attempting to address issues within their family (often broken homes), their environment or their mental health, but through attempting to “scare them straight” by combating their release of often frustrated and confused expression of aggression with, you guessed it, bigger and badder forms of aggression (you know, huge, muscular men with deep voices who can get in their faces and yell).

Additional research into the justice system revealed the brutal result that the school-to-prison pipeline has on boys, especially African-American boys. Here’s how the ACLU defines the school-to-prison pipeline:

A disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. ‘Zero-tolerance’ policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in school lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school.”

Essentially we are punishing the boys in schools, pumping them into the juvenile justice system where we can punish them some more…

Note: The term restorative justice is still unfortunately likened to a curse word in many parts of the US. The reason? Because it’s viewed as challenging the prevalent and macho “tough on crime” school of thought. I once saw a renowned criminologist in my hometown booed for bringing it up when he was asked at a town hall meeting how he’d handle crime. Can we get over this already?

…and once they turn 18 we can funnel them directly into the overcrowded prison system.

Sure, the problem is partly our obsessive belief-despite-the-facts in the “punishment works with boys” myth. But considering how much money we spend on our justice system and how little of that goes towards efforts to address the roots of the offenses committed, it’s clear that we just undoubtedly hide our justice system absurdities better than the other countries to whom we ridicule when we hear, for example, how they cut off the fingers of their thieves. In some countries a serial thief has a finger cut off but can return back to society. Is enduring years of incarceration for similar offenses—in prisons where half of sexual abuse claims involve guards and where black offenders receive 10% longer sentences than whites for the same crime—really that much more civilized?

In his article titled Storming the American Bastille, Wilhelm Cortez opens with a question: “There is not a crisis of crime that fills our prisons; it is unjust conviction and sentencing. Can we re-envision the prison system?”

He then goes on to provide a common sense answer that simply isn’t being taken into account in the current model of our justice system:

If a crime is committed it should be a social red flag that indicates an individual has somehow slipped through a social gap. The response should not be incarcerate, enslave and exploit. Instead, sentencing practices should take the role of finding the social problems at the root of the crime.”

For an additional read on the US penal system, check out Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons.

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Joe Paterno / AP

“I never heard of, of, rape and a man.”

–Joe Paterno, 1/14/2012

Remember back to 2011. News of Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s assistant football coach, dominated the headlines. He was arrested and charged with 52 counts of “sexual abuse” of young boys over a 15-year period of time. Now remember Joe Paterno’s infamous quote about how he “…never heard of, of, rape and a man.”

The naiveté of Paterno’s comment was difficult for many of us to fathom, and it sparked articles like this one: How could any Roman Catholic such as Joe Paterno not have heard of ‘rape and a man’?

Making the large assumption that, in fact, Joe Paterno was telling his truth, why might he never have heard of such a thing? The UN’s recent “lambasting” of the Roman Catholic Church could provide a few insights as to why.

First, it was rape and a boy. Many boys. But let’s start with “rape.”

A quick Google search of these Vatican crimes will find seemingly infinite use of the terms “child abuse” and “sex abuse” to describe what in reality was the Vatican “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest perhaps tens of thousands of children (many of whom were boys). Some of these children were allegedly held against their will and repeatedly raped over the course of years. Many of these cases not only should be described as rape; they should be described as a form of sexual slavery. But few international news sources have referred to it as such, in part, because we have a serious problem, a major discomfort, with using such terms to describe what happens when a man rapes a young boy. We’re far more comfortable calling it “child abuse” or “molestation” or, if we absolutely must, “sex abuse.”

According to Dr. Warren Blumenfeld of UMass Amherst’s College of Education, one reason for this discomfort is because,

When a man is raped it presents a narcissistic injury to all men who are socialized to perform as the aggressor, the inserter, the ‘active’ sexual partner, the one whose ‘gaze’ is projected outward onto a sexual object. The thought of this ‘gaze’ breaking through and infiltrating the shield around his body, when he becomes the object of another’s gaze, or worse, when his body is penetrated by another, when he is sexually violated, all that he had been socialized to believe, to act upon, to understand, is also violated. Rather than believe this could happen, he and the society in which he resides rejects it, denies it, discounts it, disowns awareness and acknowledgement of it, or if the facts are indisputable, simply views it as an aberration.”

I mistakenly thought that the Sandusky case would tear down some walls we have about using the true terms to talk about the rape of boys, but in many ways it seems we’re back to where we started.

Let’s move on to “boys.” Although we’re able to talk about men raping each other, so much so that we make rape jokes about prisoners, I’ve noticed in my years of studying the crime of sex trafficking that we are still reluctant to call it rape when it involves a man and a boy, and even more so when it involves a woman and a boy. If a “Roman Catholic such as Joe Paterno” truly never heard of such an act, one reason why is undoubtedly because we as a society have been too uncomfortable? scared? ignorant? to call it what it really is.

Note: I’ve met hundreds of leaders from various churches and they seem to have no problem using the terms “rape” and “sex slavery” when (1) it’s used in the context of one of their campaigns trying to end the scourge of it and (2) it involves a man and a girl or a man and a woman.

Indian debt bondage slaves wait to be processed after being rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan. / AP

Young Indian bonded child laborers sit on the floor of the district magistrates office as they wait to be processed after being rescued during a raid by workers from Bachpan Bachao Andolan or Save the Childhood Movement, at a garment factory in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Police raids on factories in the Indian capital revealed dozens of migrant kids hard at work Tuesday despite laws against child labor. Police rounded up 26 children from three textiles factories and a metal processing plant, but dozens more are believed to have escaped. Those captured had all come to New Delhi from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

As the natural/cultural physicality of boys is exploited, so too are the bodies of girls enslaved for the natural/cultural use of their body parts. According to most reports, girls seem to be used more often as sex slaves than boys. However, this greatly depends on place. While the vast majority of raids discover and rescue girls, in Afghanistan and coastal Sri Lanka boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution. According to Project Futures, an NGO based in Sydney, Australia that works to raise awareness and funding for anti-slavery programs, although the International Labour Organization states that 98% of sex trafficking victims are female:

…boys are amongst the most stigmatised victims of sex trafficking, further obfuscating any opportunities for identification and assistance. The hidden nature of male prostitution, alongside gendered stereotypes that denote males as physically and sexually incapable of being victims of sexual exploitation limits the scope of trafficking victim identification to only target potential female victims.

Moreover, rescued male victims of sex trafficking are less likely to encounter suitable resources for support and reintegration services. Often at risk of being treated as illegal migrants rather than victims of sexual exploitation, male trafficking victims can face deportation or criminal charges for acts directly related to being trafficked. Inadequate legal systems – for example, if trafficking laws only stipulate crimes committed against female victims – also contribute to the discrimination faced by male victims of trafficking.”

While the public sphere often hears the stories of girls and women forced to work in their master’s fields or being trafficked from Indonesia to work as maids in Los Angeles, it’s rare that we hear about the many stories whereby boys were bought and sold for sex. One reason posited for this discrepancy is “comfort.” An anti-slavery NGO staff member told me that the “mass of a population is far more comfortable hearing the story of a girl being used as a sex slave” than as a boy being used as a sex slave. “It’s man-to-girl,” one anti-slavery activist told me, “…and in the minds of many this is a far more natural leap of imagination than is man-to-boy. It’s as though we can’t talk about this issue properly because we don’t yet have the language to do so. But we do have the language. We’re just terrible at using it in this context.”

It’s this difference in body parts between boys and girls, and our “comfort” in avoiding talk about any discomforting alternatives, that often leaves boys forgotten as sex slaves. As one public health researcher put it:

Girls, no matter how young, have vaginas, and as men are mostly the leaders of sex trafficking rings and also the users of sex slaves, we’ve created this story that immediately and without questioning associates forced sexual acts, in this context, as that only between a man and a girl.”

Peter Pollard, Communications/Professional Relations Director for 1in6 and coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) wrote an article along with Dr. David Lisak, Board Chair of 1in6, in which they said:

“Most conversations about sexual violence relegate men to one of two roles:

(1) Bystander: with the potential either to ignore or to disrupt a witnessed sexual violation

(2) Perpetrator: the one who commits the violation

A new White House Task Force, formed to confront historically-inadequate responses to sexual assault on college campuses, could help educate the nation about a third role men often have:

(3) Survivor: the one who has experienced sexual trauma.”

Although incredible organizations like 1in6.org—a group working to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives—and MaleSurvivor.org—a group that provides critical resources to male survivors of sexual trauma and all their partners in recovery by building communities of hope, healing, & support—have significantly increased the level of awareness on this issue, I still see how in commercial after commercial, conference after conference, television show after television show (most recently on Katie Couric’s latest episode titled “Sex Trafficking & Sporting Events), the sex slavery of boys is simply not mentioned.

A child soldier wearing a teddy bear backpack points his gun at the photographer in a street of Monrovia, Liberia / AP

At times, surely, this is based on ignorance. Many of the loudest voices in the anti-slavery movement have only recently jumped on the bandwagon and are without a deep understanding of the complexities of this crime. But there’s something else at play here. When people who have been working in the anti-slavery sector for years still don’t mention this issue it seems because they’re uncomfortable doing so. Why might this be? I asked this question to a documentary filmmaker who happened to be in the final stages of producing a feature film about sex trafficking. Here’s how he responded:

Society can barely stomach the raping of young girls. I feared they couldn’t handle it if my film was about the sex trafficking of young boys. How comfortable would people be with telling others to check out the work? In one sense they could just say it involves rape and most people would assume it meant of a girl or woman. But if it were about a boy or a man could they just say rape and let it stand without adding any extra details? I’m not sure, but I felt that’s where discomfort would come in and I didn’t want to chance it. Great works involve some level of discomfort, but maybe that would be too much.”

So if staying comfortable in our talk of slavery is resulting in the exclusion of boys from the conversation then I think it’s time to dip into discomfort. Here’s an invitation for those of you reading this who are talking heads in the anti-slavery movement. I want you at some point to look directly into the camera and say the following:

Young boys are used as sex slaves all around the world.”

Do not speak for fifteen minutes on girls and women and then, as if culling up a seemingly insignificant memory, say “Oh yeah, and boys too.” We need to talk about disposable children everywhere, regardless of gender, and unfortunately that’s just not happening.

In fact, this “And boys too” line has become such a clichéd response as it relates to speaking about the commercial sexual exploitation of boys that ECPAT-USA actually used it as the title to their landmark discussion paper (see PDF here) on the lack of recognition that boys receive in this regard.

The report states that:

The little attention paid to boys has focused on them as exploiters, pimps and buyers of sexual services or as active participants in sex work—not as victims or survivors. Most service providers who were interviewed for this report in 2010-11, acknowledge the existence of CSEB [Commercially Sexually Exploited Boys) yet only provide services to CSEG or are unwilling or unable to help boys.”

These are common themes that run through nearly all papers on this subject. The question then is why, if the service providers “acknowledge the existence of CSEB” are boys still not getting identified or served? Here are the reasons put forward by the report:

The unwillingness of boys to self-identify as sexually exploited due to shame and stigma about being gay or being perceived as gay by family and community.

A lack of screening and intake by law enforcement and social services agencies rooted in the belief that boys are not victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Limited outreach by anti-trafficking organizations to areas, venues and tracks known for male prostitution.

Oversimplification of the reality that boys are not generally pimped hides the needs and misinforms potential services.

Lastly, the And Boys Too report considers its findings to be “modest but clear” as it offers the following three responses to the current problems:

(1) The scope of CSEB is vastly under reported and much more needs to be done to identify sexually exploited boys as young people in need of protection.

(2) To raise awareness about the impact of CSEB.

(3) To provide specialized services to CSEB.

Fans at a Portland Timbers match show their solidarity by supporting IDAHOBIT / AP

These findings, in my opinion, illustrate the intersections between CSEB and many other social issues going on in the world. To name one such issue, consider that many of these boys were unwilling to self-identify because of the “stigma about being gay” or even as “being perceived as being gay.” We are able to educate and train our law enforcement and social services agencies, we are able to increase our outreach efforts by anti-trafficking organizations and we are able to use awareness and educational campaigns to decrease the “oversimplification of the reality,” but we are not able to address the stigma these boys feel about being or being perceived as gay until we remove the stigmas about being gay.

Let me make this clear: If you are one of the millions of people in this world who vocalize or otherwise spread your belief that being gay is “bad” or “sinful” you are directly and actively contributing to the trauma of boys who have been sexually exploited.

Note: For an informative read on this subject please see the classic 1992 anthology titled Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price.

It’s not enough to rescue boys and provide them shelter; it’s not enough to acknowledge that the problem exists; it’s not enough to provide comprehensive and specialized services to the survivors; we are only going to truly crush this crime when we are doing all of these plus living mindful lives that take into account the way our seemingly unrelated actions can have devastating, albeit indirect, consequences.

Although Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free The Slaves and author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, was speaking in regards to slave labor, this passage from his book provides an unforgettable insight into the indirect and global nature of all forms of exploitation:

Slaves touch your life indirectly as well. They made the bricks for the factory that made the TV you watch. In Brazil slaves made the charcoal that tempered the steel that made the springs in your car and the blade on your lawnmower. Slaves grew the rice that fed the woman that wove the lovely cloth you’ve put up as curtains. Your investment portfolio and your mutual fund pension own stock in companies using slave labor in the developing world. Slaves keep your costs low and returns on your investments high.”

While it’s increasingly important to publicly address our failures, as social worker Steven Procopio did in his CNN article titled Exploited boys are too often failed, so too must we take action, while light is shining on the issue, to collaborate.

In a piece I wrote last year for The Guardian titled, Anti-slavery: collaboration begins to come of age, Dave Batstone, co-founder and president of the global anti-slavery organization Not For Sale, said something that will forever stick with me:

Strategic alliances win important social landmarks; lone rangers win logos and egos.”

My final plea, for those now ready and wanting to get involved, is that you fully absorb and then apply the essence of this passage from Cecil Murphey’s article titled Dialogue Between the Adult Survivor and the Inner Wounded Child:

I’m Cec and you’re little Cecil. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to take care of you in childhood, but I’m here now.”

Little Cecil was a toddler and sitting in a high chair. I stroked his cheek and said:

I couldn’t help you then, but I’m here now.”