I remember a day when I was seven years old, where I sat in my bedroom chair in front of my parents; my mother was grabbing my shoulders and shaking me hard as she shouted in my face. I had “dared” to talk back to one of their clients, told him to go away, and though I obviously couldn’t stop him, he made a point of telling my parents. They had taught me to be respectful, “coy” “seductive” (it makes me sick to say that, the word they used) to the people who paid them to sexually abuse me, and they beat and raped me themselves to pound this lesson back in that day. I was often shocked by the depths of their self-righteous cruelty, their indifference to my suffering in later years, but now I see just how far it really went. This particular client, an old obese pedophile did come back, showing up in my bedroom often at random–my parents didn’t bother scheduling with me beforehand. He liked to perform many cruel, sadistic acts such as squeezing my chest so hard while he was raping me that I passed out–perhaps also due to the drugs I was frequently given.
After I remembered this last month I was plagued by nightmares, where he would show up randomly, naked in the rooms of a house I was running through; he would have knives in hand to attack me with, while I would try to fend him off with something like a spatula. I had no real defenses in the dream, just like when I was a child, and these rooms I ran through were filled with other people who also did nothing. Somewhere between the nightmares and the flashbacks that day, the full reality of it dawned upon me quicker and deeper then ever before: that this was my life.
On many days the kitchen of our house would be full of strange people, and I would have to go out there and sit on their laps while they chose between me or my brother. I remember many times creepy women came over to our house for dinner, wearing heavy perfume and makeup. After the meal was over, they would follow me back into my bedroom and rape me. I was trafficked as a child, and it wasn’t really that big of a secret. In fact when I was 12 years old, towards the end of my desirability to my parent’s pedophile ring, my abusive boyfriend found out what was going on. But he didn’t help me, instead he tried acting as a pimp himself. I remember us hanging around the bathrooms of dodgy pizzerias or bowling alleys where he tried to find potential clients to make him some money. Though I fought hard to rebel against the life my parents made for me in the coming years, thankfully he left my life on his own and I was never sold as a teenager.
I know that my story isn’t really that uncommon. A recent study showed that 50% of the children being trafficked here in the United States are boys. And women were not only very well-represented in my parent’s pedophile ring, I know that they also make up a very large percentage of those exploiting street boys and raping boys caught up in the juvenile justice system. It is unfortunate that we don’t see this reality reflected often or at all, but instead a narrative where trafficking is a “women’s issue” where all the victims are female and the perpetrators male. That is not the case in this country or otherwise, and having survived these things and being male, it is very alienating and invalidating to see these issues presented that way, primarily by advocates who are not even survivors themselves. And so are the double standards, the people who blame male victims and accuse us of wanting it, of being able to leave, saying we were “deviants,” “perverts,” “delinquents,” apparently worse then the pedophiles exploiting us. And when a standard is put forth where horrific stories of abuse are told giving unconditional amnesty to every woman involved no matter what role she played or crimes she committed, it creates environments where female abusers will be more welcome then male survivors.
Shortly after my grandmother died, I overheard my mother talking in a hushed voice about how she had been trafficked as a child by grandmother: “it was nothing like what we do to the boys!” she insisted in an angry, derisive tone. I heard this theme from her over and over again throughout my life; where my emotions were belittled or brushed aside because of my gender. My mother was a deeply sexist, child-hating hypocrite who felt entitled to put her own pain and her own worth above the innocent, vulnerable young boys that she was abusing. But her criminal abuse has no justification; the fact that she chose to turn her hatred upon her own children while worshipping the image of her abusive single mother is despicable. There is no comparing pain or measuring trauma objectively, so my mother did not have it ‘worse’ then I did, and nor did she give me a ‘better’ childhood. I don’t split hairs; better would have meant no trafficking at all, no sexual abuse, no physical or emotional abuse, and no alcoholism. If there is still abuse, then the parenting is still abusive; it’s that simple. Abusive parents should not expect their children to (impossibly) live in the context of the parent’s lives.
Seemingly just because they could, my parents sold my body to pedophiles and child pornographers for money; money that they also kept for themselves, money that I never saw, was not thanked for and which did not mean I had adequate clothing, school supplies or was allowed to ask for things I needed without being verbally abused and shamed in response. My mother self-righteously believed that as a child I was less then nothing; that I was a greedy, irresponsible ‘thing’ that needed to be beaten, yelled at, worked and “kept in line,” that I deserved nothing. And this view of me never changed; as I became a young adult and went to college, nothing I did was ever enough, and she vented her endless jealousy and resentment upon me for supposedly having a ‘better life’ then she did.
My mother, the master manipulator, was fond of hatefully spitting out the words “he never worked a day in his life!” when talking about me while I was in my late teens. But yes, actually I did work; child pornography and child sex slavery are work; in fact they are such taxing and difficult forms of work that they have left me with life-long consequences and absolutely no control and no rights for how the pictures/videos taken of me are used today. But beyond this being a sick lie, there is the fact that I don’t agree with what she said on a much deeper level. I don’t believe in child labor, and I don’t believe that children are less valuable then working adults, I don’t believe they deserve less respect, value, or worth. I don’t want other people to live through what I did, and when I hear of children having significantly better childhoods then I (for instance involving no violence or emotional abuse, but respect, love, and autonomy) then I think that’s great, and I want everyone to have that. That’s what makes me different, and indeed better then my mother.
Of course, studying itself is work, is an investment and also deserving of respect, not derision. I did not deserve to be emotionally abused or have my decisions disrespected when I said that; “I’m attending college full time right now, and that is what I’m doing.” It happens to be the case that having post-traumatic stress disorder and a whole host of other conditions as a result of my childhood left me so disabled that I desperately needed my time outside of class to heal. And even when I was in such a crisis that I needed to take time off from school, that still didn’t make me less valuable of a person then my parents, people who should have been in jail and who used children as slaves for their own profit. Today I know that it was insane for my “family” to act like they were the victims of a “deadbeat son.” This pathetic reversal of reality of course was meant to make sure that I would always feel like a failure even when I hadn’t failed at all. But I feel no shame today for having been a disabled young adult, since after all I ended up like that through no choice of my own, but through the actions of people like my mother. I’m now proud of having resisted her insane demands and for doing what I needed and most of all what I personally was capable of doing at the time. My value and worth as a person is not defined by what work I can do or money I can make.
But much of the language that my mother used against me during that time of my life is in fact completely in line with negative societal stereotypes and forms of emotional abuse that are often targeted at young males. During this time other people also felt entitled to insult me when they heard barely a fraction of my story. Society is uninterested in the emotional lives of young men, in the fact that we frequently are survivors of all sorts of traumatic child abuse and also need validation and space to heal. Homeless male children and young adults are most often given labels such as “aggressive” or “lazy” (despite the endless, 24/7 work that being homeless necessitates) to imply their state is all the fault of their “attitude,” and thus that their parents and the society that threw them onto the streets is not to blame; but the people walking on the sidewalks to and from their comfy homes are the real victims because they have to see the destitute living exposed out there. People act like it’s legitimate to pour endless amounts of shame and derision on young men for not being 100% independent, regardless of the economic conditions and their personal history. This emotional abuse as well as the hidden histories behind it are undoubtedly an enormous contributing factor to the epidemic of suicide amongst young men.
The truth is it was very hard for me to escape from my mother’s house, life, and most of all the legacy of having been a “child prostitute.” All of the things I was groomed to do as a child, all of the messages I received were twisted and of no practical value as I moved into adulthood. Yet shedding them and an incestuous parent who alternately wanted you as a dependant possession and to sell you for her enjoyment is anything but easy. My former pimp wanted to continue to control, judge, intrude upon me and put me down every chance she got, and I probably would have died if I didn’t do whatever I could to find a life outside of her. I don’t tolerate in my present life anyone who thinks they have a right to judge me and what I had to do to escape that life, least of all any of my old family who still might see her as a victim when she is anything but. I don’t feel bad for taking time to heal today either, I’m not comparing myself with anyone else anymore, let alone the person I might have been right now if I had a childhood filled with real love. Loving myself today means putting aside those comparisons and learning to live openly within my own context and story.
It seems very plain to me that helping males see themselves as survivors, validating and including their experiences as being abuse, and not somehow less or less worthy of being mentioned and talked about and dealt with then the abuse that females experience can only have a positive effect on the world. That means putting aside all of the shaming labels and recognizing the reality of the trauma that makes us what we are. You’re not going to stop abuse by ignoring 50% of the abuse that’s going on (it’s the same thing with military rape, where half the victims are male but many so-called advocates pretend it’s only something women go through) or by perpetuating myths and stereotypes about gender. Nor are male victims served by being hidden away in phrases like “women and children,” as if women are never the abusers, the exploiters of said children, and as if males, having been abused/exploited their entire childhood gain some magical invulnerability to the cycle once they come of age and gain a different label that apparently makes it ok to kill, ignore, and write us off wholesale. But no, we are the same people throughout our lives, and coming of age shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to no longer offer services or allow societal stereotypes to kick in.
Healing from an abusive childhood is often a lifelong process, and when people aren’t given any space to heal, any validation that what they went through is wrong, they will often repeat the cycle rather then break it. Males are not less deserving of the human right to housing then females, we are not less exploited by trafficking or pornography, we are not less effected by rape, incest, or other kinds of abuse then females are. And while vocal male survivors are not as plentiful, actual male survivors are not a minority. There are many aspects to my personal story, and trafficking is just one of them, but I know that whenever I come across a description that purports to talk about the whole problem while ignoring experiences like mine, that I’m reading something wrong. Personally, I was abused by both men and women, underage boys and girls, and I don’t stereotype on that basis. I prefer a mixed community of survivors that includes people of all different sexes and genders, I’m drawn to people with similar healing paths and journeys, that may intersect on different levels. At my heart I am a human being and I care about that more then polemics, but I do exist.