When people discuss sex trafficking, there is usually an emphasis on women and girls being its victims. While it is true that most victims of sexual exploitation are female and that most male victims are trafficked for labour, there are some boys and men who are also sold for sex work. Here is a case study from World Vision’s Trafficking in Persons Info Booklet that demonstrates this trend.
Wunchai and two of his friends who work as cooks at a local restaurant saw an advertisement in the local newspaper: ‘Wanted: young Thai male chefs required in South Africa for a soon-to-be-opened restaurant at a hotel.’ The ad promised a good package with travel assistance, provided in the form of arrangement of air tickets and visas. Accommodation and a friendly work environment were also guaranteed. Wunchai and his friends contacted the number on the ad, and sought a meeting with the agent who ran his office from home. They were promised a sum of $60,000 Baht (about AUD$1,300) per month, with all travel expenses to be taken care of by the agent.Their visas were processed at the consulate and within a period of one month, they were able to leave Thailand to work in South Africa.
They were met at the airport by a couple who said they were assigned to pick them up and take them to the hotel where they would be working. When they arrived, they were given a room to share and a man appearing to be the manager encouraged them to rest before work started the next day. The same evening however, they were asked to come into the manager’s office to share their experiences as cooks in Thailand. There were three other men present in the room.
The next day, Wunchai and his friends were taken by car to another place where they were told they would be working. It was around two hours drive from their original location. They stopped on a busy street and entered a dingy looking building whose interior was brightly decorated. There were well-built men standing inside the entrance of the building. Feeling disconcerted, Wunchai and his friends began asking questions about the place and their work. No answers were given and they were taken to the back of the building and pushed into separate rooms. The doors were locked. When they started banging on the doors, demanding release, one of them men from the entrance came into Wunchai’s room, hit him in the face and told him to shut up. Wunchai’s friends went silent upon hearing the physical abuse he received.
From that evening onwards, they were each visited by men who forced them to have sex. Refusal would arouse anger and physical violence from what they came to realize were the guards of the place. They were not allowed out of their rooms for the first few days, but after a while they were given permission to wander in the building and the back yard, which had a high fence under careful watch of their guard. There were other young men in similar situations, many of them from Asia, but also from Africa.
After a few months, when they were allowed to accompany their clients out of the building, one of the friends escaped and ran to the Thai consulate. He informed the consulate of their situation and immediate action was taken. Cooperation from the police led to the rescue of all the others held in the brothel. Following their testimonies, Wunchai and his friends were repatriated back to Thailand.
McConaghy from The Ratanak Foundation told us that one boy he knows cannot even sit down because of the abuse he has taken from men who pay to abuse him. Therefore it is necessary to find ways to protect boys from trafficking situations as well. Ratanak is raising money to build their first high-security safe house for boys, and my hope is that as anti-trafficking efforts expand we will see more of these projects.