Being bullied by boys in junior high school made it difficult to trust most guys. It also led me to view men as people I had to be careful around. My mind couldn’t forget how unworthy I felt at the age of 13 and how this feeling came from the things a boy told me on a daily basis. I later learned that the things this boy would tell me would count as sexual harassment.

Back then, I felt vulnerable and unable to stand up for myself. I felt intimidated and lived in constant fear of what would happen to me if I told someone about the source of my suffering.

I also felt ashamed.

One of the reasons I joined Two Wings as an Editorial Intern, was because I wanted to be a part of a cause that serves young women who had been mistreated by men. Mistakenly, I assumed that young women were the only ones who suffered the plight of domestic sex trafficking. I thought for sure all traffickers were men who felt they could manipulate and coerce young women as they pleased.

Although my personal experience influenced my negative perception of guys, the media doesn’t help soften the image of men. When I used to think of sex traffickers, I thought of the big scary men I would see on film. Films like “Taken” and “The Whistleblower” depict women as the victims of sex trafficking and men as the traffickers.

Although there is the film “Trade” that includes a small boy who is sexually exploited and a female trafficker, the protagonists of the film are female sex trafficking victims. The traffickers who do the physical and sexual harm are men.

Nevertheless, there are boys and young men who suffer in silence. One story that touched my heart is that of Bekunda Sunday from East Africa. Bekunda was deceived into thinking he would get an honest job. At the time, Bekunda was 24 and eager to work to support himself and his family. Unfortunately, he was physically abused and forced to have sex with men and women. Fortunately, Bekunda managed to escape. His fear of being killed did not stop him from fighting for his freedom. Bekunda was told by family members to keep his story quiet, but he did not listen. His explanation, “I owed it to the ones I left behind.”

Although girls and young women make up the majority of sex trafficking cases, last year fifty-one cases involved young men in California alone. In noticing the number of young men who are survivors of human trafficking on the National Human Trafficking Hotline, I thought about whether these boys had any sources of help available to them.

In doing some research, I came across Restore One, an organization helping teenage boys heal from the nightmare of having been sexually exploited. This organization from North Carolina is said to be the first in the nation to serve only sex-trafficked boys. The founders of Restore One realized that boys were an underserved community that needed assistance.

Being in California, I looked for organizations that help young men as well as young women. I discovered Children of the Night, which is an organization that is dedicated to restoring the lives and dreams of trafficked youth. They have saved countless homeless youth from child exploiters. Another organization in California also dedicated to offering services to homeless youth is the Covenant House.

Homeless youth are at a very high risk of falling into the hands of child predators. They need money for food and often feel forced to sell their bodies in order to pay for necessities and sometimes even shelter.

Thankfully, there are organizations specifically designed to rescue vulnerable youth.

I hope that many more boys and young men find the strength and courage to speak out. You never know who you can help by simply sharing your story.
As human beings, we seek to connect with others. It is beyond valuable to know someone who understands your pain.

Stephanie Sandoval

Contributing Writer, Two Wings