The Less Common, Yet Significant Role Males Play in Human Trafficking


Human trafficking is an atrocious crime that enslaves millions of individuals in forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a staggering 27.6 million people are trapped in forced labor globally on any given day.

While statistics reveal that nearly four out of every five people trapped in forced commercial sexual exploitation are girls or women and over half of all children in forced labor are commercially sexually exploited, the reality is far more nuanced. 

The stereotypical perception of human trafficking often focuses solely on sex trafficking. However, this limited view obscures the widespread issue of labor trafficking, which actually affects more people globally, and in particular, males.

Some of the most impacted industries are construction, agriculture, and manufacturing – sectors that touch our everyday lives.

According to ILO’s 2022 report on “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage,” a concerning 5.8% of the world’s male population are forced into labor trafficking.

While men are often portrayed as the perpetrators in sex trafficking as the buyer and the trafficker, this emphasis is not exclusive. Males are also susceptible to being trafficked themselves.

Traffickers are predatory – always looking for vulnerable individuals to exploit. The mere reality of trying to survive in this world are areas that traffickers capitalize on, like economic hardship, desperation for work, or a lack of support systems.


In addition, several industries put men at higher risk. Migrant labors, construction workers, and those in agriculture are particularly an easy target due to the transient nature of their work and potential for isolation. 

Being the opportunists that they are, traffickers see these as entry points to exploit – luring men with promises of work and then entrapping them through debt bondage, threats or violence.

Male vulnerability extends beyond forced labor. They can also be victims of commercial sexual exploitation, especially those in precarious situations like runaways living on the streets.

A young survivor shared how his girlfriend had forced him to have sex with her friends for money, saying, “Sexual exploitation…is such a big stigma, but especially for males…it’s even harder to admit.” 

This highlights the shame and stigma that prevent men from coming forward, contributing to a lack of identification of male victims.

ECPAT-USA identifies several reasons why male victims are often overlooked: 

  • Shame and stigma: Societal norms prevent men from self-identifying as victims.
  • Limited Screening: Law enforcement and support services might not be actively looking for or equipped to identify male victims.
  • Limited Outreach: Anti-trafficking efforts often lack outreach programs specifically targeting males, particularly in areas known for male prostitution.

We cannot and should not limit our purview of what a human trafficking victim looks like. 

We must break down our preconceived notions to combat human trafficking effectively.

We must recognize the diverse roles men play in this system – as victims, perpetrators, or even those forced into becoming traffickers themselves.


By acknowledging this complexity, we can create a more informed and comprehensive approach.

Here’s how we can move forward:

  • Broader Awareness Campaigns: Educational campaigns that address the vulnerability of both men and women, young and old, are crucial.
  • Enhanced Victim Support: Increased resources are needed to help victims, male and female, restore and rebuild their lives.
  • Strategic Dismantling: Implement strategies to dismantle trafficking networks and disrupt their operations.

Ultimately, eradicating human trafficking begins with each and every one of us. 

It requires us to challenge our own biases and tear down any misconceptions we may have that limit our scope on the issue.

As people, we must become more informed to advocate for effective solutions.

Every individual can be a catalyst for change. 

Why not start now?

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Fight Trafficking!

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