The lens through which first responders understand the face of human trafficking greatly affects their process of screening and identifying victims. There is often a presumption that victims are female. There is a false perception that male victims are only trafficked for labor or that their involvement in commercial sex is always voluntary. These assumptions impede proper screening and adequate protection for male victims of human trafficking.
Below are some key considerations when working with male victims:
- Be gender sensitive in all aspects of victim identification, advocacy, and service delivery. It can often be difficult for male survivors to seek help for fear of how others will react. Sometimes male survivors find it easier to tell an impartial staff person rather than friends or family. Males may also protect their self-image as a strong and resilient person and thus be reticent to admit feelings of fear, danger, or abuse. It is important when working with any victim to consider whether he has a preference for a male or female officer, case manager, or interpreter (if applicable) when discussing his victimization.
- Be aware of heightened privacy concerns. Many male survivors do not wish to share what happened to them publically, and fear that disclosing or reporting what happened may require them to talk publically about their experience. Ensure that, throughout the case management process, they are provided with confidentiality, privacy, and choice. An effort toward nonjudgmental interactions, while acknowledging the difficulty in talking about such intense topics, may be helpful in decreasing the male victim’s feelings of shame and increasing his sense of safety. Also ensure that everyone in your task force is sensitized and trained to male victimization and the unique needs of male survivors.
- Ensure understanding of victimization and mental health outcomes. As with other populations of trafficking victims, the sense of self and concept of reality are disrupted. Survivors can experience concern about sexual orientation, anxiety, depression, and fearfulness. Psychological outcomes can be severe for men socialized to believe that they are immune to sexual violence or fraud; that they are responsible for providing financial support to their families; and because societal reactions to these types of experiences can be isolating. They may feel they are “less of a man” or fear they were targeted because of a perceived sexual orientation. Their existing relations can also be disrupted by the victimization and the reactions of others (e.g., lack of belief or support by their community).
- Give special consideration to housing options for male victims of trafficking. If the individual’s victimization and gender sensitivities are not taken into account, male victims may be inadvertently placed in a housing situation that can cause more harm. Work with the client to identify what he prefers.
- Allow for self-selection into support services. Always work with your client to identify the best programs and support services for males. For example, males should not be placed in LGBTQ-focused peer-to-peer programs if he self-identifies as a heterosexual male and vice versa. LGBTQ communities might have specific needs related to their sexual orientation. Survivors should always be empowered to self-select.
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