The month of June is Pride Month, a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities come together for celebration, support, and acceptance.
The human rights progress celebrated at this time of year makes it a prime opportunity to take an unflinching look at the problem of LGBTQ-related trafficking.
As one of the fastest-growing demographics of marginalized people in the United States, LGBTQ youth face tremendous pressure and an increased risk of sex trafficking. Cultural biases, homophobia, sex and gender discrimination, economic vulnerability, generational hate, and social stigma make LGBTQ youth inordinately vulnerable to exploitation.
After José was sent to live with an aunt at 15, he found the acceptance and belonging he was craving in relationships with several older men, one of whom began grooming him and then trafficking him. José found himself trapped in a horrific situation: “It was degrading and terrifying, but I was too scared to leave. I felt like I had nowhere to go, and my trafficker kept reinforcing that to keep me under his control.”
José’s heartbreaking story is unfortunately common. Sadly, the number of LBGTQ youth cases reported to authorities is not even close to an accurate reflection of how many individuals are trafficked on a daily basis.
Overlooked and forgotten.
True statistics on human trafficking among LGBTQ youth are severely underreported. The discrepancy is due to complex factors including fear of discrimination, prejudice, and violence, societal stigmas surrounding the LGBTQ population, and an often strained relationship with law enforcement. In fact, of the 31,659 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline since 2007, only 418 (that’s just 1%) were reported as being connected to the LGBTQ population.
LGBTQ youth are often overlooked or forgotten when it comes to the conversation regarding the fight against sex trafficking. Among organizations fighting human trafficking, there is a growing need for specific training in acceptance, understanding, and awareness of the particular issues unique to the LGBTQ youth community.
The Exodus Road and LGBTQ Youth
At The Exodus Road, we are committed to freedom for the most at risk, and we know that that includes the LGBTQ community. This is a reality here in the United States and around the globe.
Our team in Thailand works with a special focus on boys that are trafficked for sexual services to adult men. Most of the advertising for these boys takes place on social media, where pimps sell to tourists and local gay men. Many of these children and teens identify as LGBTQ. One such tweet read, “A good and nice boy is available for sex with you if need pls let us know.” This tweet led to a TER-lead investigation uncovering a pimp’s control of a 16-year-old boy. Thankfully, police moved on the case, and the trafficker was arrested.
Since 2012, TER has helped police stop the abuse of 57 boys. This represents 12% of our total reported cases in Thailand alone over the last 9 years.
Much work remains
Human traffickers target those who are vulnerable, and those who identify as LGBTQ are still an incredibly vulnerable population. While more resources, advocacy, and research need to be invested in serving this community, we are grateful for the rising tide of attention that is building on behalf of these valuable young people.
Visit these resources for further reading and support for this population: