Every day in the capitol of the U.S., boys identifying as gay or transgender are bought and sold for sex by adult men. In Washington D.C., suburban “Johns” with gold wedding bands drive nice cars into the city to regularly solicit these youths for sex. LGBTQ sex trafficking, and especially transgender sex trafficking, is a grossly misunderstood issue. Fortunately, Courtney’s House in Washington, D.C. is one of the few organizations in the country recognizing trafficking of LGBTQ people.
While Washington, D.C. is a hotspot for gay and transgender child sex trafficking, it happens across the country. LGBTQ youth, and especially transgender youth, are at an increased risk for sex trafficking for a number of reasons. They are disproportionally disowned by their families, and the social stigma and institutional bias against this vulnerable population has led to a lack of services, opportunity and epidemic homelessness. Pimps take advantage of these vulnerabilities and profit from selling these children to adult men.
Pimps who specialize in selling LGBTQ and homeless youth are often called “Mamas,” and they lure LGBTQ youth into an artificial, twisted family structure. The “Mama,” usually a transgender woman herself, acts as the head of the household and sets quotas for her makeshift family that they must fulfill each night via prostitution. If they don’t make the required sum of money, they are socially isolated by the “family” and threatened to be kicked out. The money that each person makes on the streets is handed over to the Mama, who then gives them a small, token amount of spending money. This inadequate allowance isn’t enough to cover living expenses, forcing them to borrow money from the Mama and keeping them in debt.
Fortunately, activists are recognizing and responding to the unique challenges faced by gay or transgender trafficking victims. Tatyana Foltz, D.C. Services Coordinator for Courtney’s House, emphasizes that one of the most effective ways to connect with this population is through street outreach. Early in the morning, she leads a team of trained volunteers through the infamous prostitution tracks in D.C. to build relationships, pass out the number for their survivor-run hotline and share information about jobs or shelter, which most people are seeking. But despite these efforts, the stereotypes and discrimination against gay and transgender trafficking victims continues.
This discrimination is often most apparent in interactions with law enforcement. Since they are biologically male, many police refuse to consider transgender youth victims of a sex crime. In addition, transgender prostitution is more often socially accepted and dismissed as “survival sex.” However, anytime a child is involved, regardless of gender, participation in commercial sex is legally rape. As Tina Frundt, the Executive Director of Courtney’s House says, “there is absolutely no such thing as survival rape.”
If we can recognize that men and boys can be victims of sexual abuse and rape, why is it that we struggle to understand that they can also be trafficked for sex? If you support organizations like Courtney’s House that reach out to the most vulnerable, then sign this petition for the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010 (H.R.5575, S.2925) today.