Disappearing Boys

By Michael Reagan & Jerome Elam

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The sexual abuse of boys is a topic that is all too often overlooked inside and outside of the Church. I am so grateful for my dear friend, Mike Reagan, who is working to bring about a greater public dialogue on this issue. As a survivor of child sexual abuse, Mike understands the unique dynamics and devastating stigmas associated with the sexual abuse of boys. With the assistance of writer and sexual abuse survivor, Jerome Elam, Mike contributes a guest post this week that will prayerfully help begin to empower the public and the Church to understand the issues related to the epidemic of male trafficking. It is only then that we are able to take effective steps to bring this nightmare to an end. —Boz

The heavy door closed with a loud thump as the young boy left the hotel room. As he walked, a look of pain swept across his face as he struggled to forget the physical and emotional trauma he had just endured. At the bottom of the stairs a man waited and as the boy approached he grabbed him by the arm and shook him. The boy reaches into his pocket and hands the man a collection of crumpled bills. The man slaps the boy across his face adding to the rapidly growing collection of bruises on his young body. He turns the boy’s pockets inside out as a candy bar and a small toy fall to the ground. The man drags the boy towards a nearby van and opens the back door. Inside a collection of boys and girls sit dirty and hungry in the grip of the dark world known as human trafficking. When they are not being sold for sex, the children are forced to shoplift and steal wallets. Many are from abusive homes and no one has ever reported them missing. The only constant in their lives is the feeling of worthlessness and the fear of death threats from the human traffickers that have stolen their lives and broken their spirits.

America is being eroded at its very base and one of the most rapidly expanding parasites on our society is the crime of human trafficking. The Department of Justice estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked in this country right now. Human trafficking is a $9.5 billion a year business in the U.S. according to the United Nations. Within the first forty-eight hours of leaving home, a runaway child will be approached by a human trafficker and is at risk of being forced into sexual servitude. Human trafficking is second only to the drug trade as the largest criminal enterprise according to the Justice Department. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that pimps can make from $150,000 to $200,000 per year for each child. The NCMEC also reports a pimp has an average of four children and the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking non profit, reports the average victim of sex trafficking is forced to have sex 20-48 times a day. These numbers are shocking and part of a tragedy that is actively swallowing America’s children. The life of a child being trafficked is brutal. Drugs, alcohol, beatings and death threats are used as tools to keep innocent children as slaves to the depths of depravity. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports the average life span of a child being trafficked is seven years. The drugs, alcohol and abusive lifestyle wither the fragile spirit of a child leaving them to die in the shadow of hope.

Our children are being thrown into the darkest abyss of humanity and some have been lost in a broken system. In 2010, Los Angeles officials reported that 59 percent of juveniles arrested for prostitution were in the foster care system. In addition, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that of the children who are reported missing, who are also likely sex trafficking victims, 60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away. In July of 2013, the FBI rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution in the United States, and arrested 150 pimps in a series of raids in 76 American cities. The campaign, known as “Operation Cross Country,” was the largest of its type and conducted under the FBI’s “Innocence Lost” initiative. It all took place in just 72 hours. The youngest victim recovered was just 9 years old. (Reuters).

Historically women have been identified as the overwhelming majority of victims of human trafficking but recent studies have shown male victims of trafficking have been severely overlooked. In 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of those who were sexually exploited in New York, fifty percent of victims were found to be boys from the United States, being trafficked domestically. Until now anti-trafficking organizations have been focused on female victims but that tide is now starting to turn. A 2013 study by the organization ECPAT discovered males are more likely to be arrested for shoplifting or other petty crimes even though they are being trafficked sexually.

One of the great myths about male victims of sex trafficking is that they are predominantly homosexual. The truth is the majority of trafficked youths are not gay according to Steven Pricopio from the organization Surviving Our Struggle, a center for young male trafficking victims. Most are trapped in a life of sexual servitude through threats of violence against their families or themselves. “They don’t see them as victims … It’s not an issue of sexual orientation, it’s an issue of right circumstances which bring you to exploitation or the vulnerability that brings you into being sexually exploited.” Pricopio says. Also included in the John Jay study was the fact that forty percent of male victims were forced to service female clients. The lens through which we currently view human trafficking has to change and we need acknowledge that this scourge defies gender, race, and socioeconomic status. Instead of viewing victims of trafficking as either male or female we have to now view this as a human problem.

The path to becoming a victim of sex trafficking is similar for both males and females. Income is not the sole determining factor in assessing the vulnerability of children. Traffickers have no limitations on the methods they will use to lure victims into an inescapable trap. Human trafficking has also infiltrated our schools. Traffickers will hand pick a child to be a recruiter, typically one who has formed a trauma bond with their trafficker and place them in a school. The recruiter will wear nice clothes and jewelry and drive a nice car. When the other kids compliment the recruiter on their clothes or car the recruiter will say, “I can show you how to have all this and more.” It doesn’t take long before the trafficker has the new child trapped with threats of violence against their family and friends. There are factors that do make a child more vulnerable and one of the most common risk factors among victims is a dysfunctional family environment. Alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse all create a chasm in the self-esteem of a child. Traffickers actively target these children and soon they are lost to the darkness few survive.

As a survivor of child abuse and child pornography, I am all too familiar with the effects of childhood trauma. In 1948, at the age of three, my mother and father divorced. This event changed my world as I was placed in the custody of my mother and the time spent with my father became a shadow of our former relationship. Divorce can be difficult to process in the mind of a young child, and many internalize the blame for the breakup of their parents, saddling themselves with a lifetime of guilt. At the age of eight my sister and I were moved to a “day” school, where we returned home every night. Due to my mother’s busy schedule as an actress, my sister and I were enrolled in an after- school program, and it was there I was targeted by a pedophile.

The man who ran the after school program began working his way into my life, filling the void left by the absence of my father. He taught me how to throw a baseball and attended all of my sporting events. There was a point where he owned me and molested me sexually three days a week. This continued for a year, and even though I knew it was wrong, for an eight year old it was just too much to process. There was no one I could tell about the sexual abuse. My relationship with my parents was strained due to their divorce and my struggles with being adopted. I knew what was happening to me was wrong but children always bear the greatest burden as victims of child abuse and they keep that secret at their own expense.

My abuser did not stop at molesting me, and soon he was using me for child pornography. I remember the moment as a young boy I believed that my life was over. My abuser would often drive me home at the end of the day, and one evening, as my mother waited at the front door, he asked, “Mind if I take him to dinner?” My mother waved as she stood on the porch “Fine, see you in a bit!” She said.

Instead of taking me to dinner, my abuser took me back to his apartment. In the kitchen, my abuser drew back the curtains to reveal a photography-developing studio. As my abuser began moving a sheet of paper from pan to pan, an image of mountains appeared. He allowed me to try, and to my horror, the image that developed was not a landscape but a picture of me nude as an eight-year-old boy. It was at that point that I knew my life was over. I was consumed with an uncontrollable anger and hatred of myself that would haunt me throughout my life.

I remember as a young boy smashing my bike with a hammer when the chain came off and as an adult taking a sledgehammer to a 1965 Oldsmobile at my father’s ranch when the battery died. The car and the bike represented my abuser, and my anger towards the man who stole my innocence was a bottomless well. In 1987 I was offered two million dollars to write a “tell all” book about my parents, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. As I began writing, something unexpected happened; I began getting angry, and as I struggled with a whirlwind of emotions, I finally realized I could no longer keep silent about my molestation.

I met with Nancy and my father and I began to shake as tears welled up in my eyes when I told my father how my innocence was stolen. I remember Nancy rubbing my back and my father’s hand on my shoulder. I also remembers my father’s words “Where is he so I can kick his ass!” I realized on that day in 1987 that God was speaking to me and he wanted me to break my silence so others could be inspired to speak out. God has given me the strength to survive and my wife Colleen is my North Star. God has also blessed me with two beautiful children, my son Cameron and my daughter Ashley.

Children from dysfunctional homes are deprived of unconditional love and starved for affection. They are infected with worthlessness and this makes them a target for sexual predators and traffickers. It is only through the unconditional love of my parents and opening myself up and accepting God’s unconditional love for me that I was blessed to have the strength to survive and heal. I thank God every day that I am here today and not a statistic. To protect the innocence of our children we need to educate and empower ourselves with knowledge. We also need to give our children the unconditional love they deserve and teach them about God’s boundless love for us all. To learn more about the signs of child abuse and how to stop predators visit the GRACE resources page. To learn more about how you can help victims of human trafficking visit the Michael Reagan Center at Arrow Child and Family Ministries. For education and prevention of human trafficking visit the Polaris Project website.

Michael Reagan is president of the Reagan Legacy Foundation, speaker, and former radio talk show host. For more information, visit: www.reaganlegacyfoundation.org.

Jerome Elam is Staff Writer and Columnist for Communities Digital News

This article was originally published on October 3, 2014 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.