Calling on the gay community to support youth services for child victims of sex trafficking

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times

As celebrations for Gay Pride Month come to a close, I’d like to take a moment to point out a troubling gap in services for gay and transgender youth who have been commercially sexually exploited.

In March of this year, Project Q Atlanta reported that Atlanta drag queen personality Pasha Nicole received a 14-year prison sentence for “forcing a transgender teenager into prostitution,” among other offenses related to trafficking.

Nicole, known legally as Christopher Thomas Lynch, was charged alongside her 35-year-old roommate and gay bar go-go dancer, Steven Donald Lemery.   WSBTV reported the following pending charges against Lemery:  five counts of aggravated child molestation, two counts of human trafficking, child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, and pandering by compulsion.

What’s most troubling in this story is the trauma inflicted on the victims.

The Georgia Voice reported that Lemery used social networking sites to lure teen boys to his house, and then he would not allow them to leave.  Furthermore, it is alleged that Lemery did not feed the victims and that he kept them locked in a closet.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), Chief Deputy Sheriff Stan Copeland stated that “most of the victims were runaways or easy targets.”

“They would put the kids in a dependent situation,” the AJC quoted Copeland, “if [the victims] wanted to leave, they’d have to perform sexual favors.”

The AJC further reported that deputies had identified victims in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina and that the trafficking scheme was alleged to have dated back two to three years.

This story, which seems rare and sensationalized, is all too familiar to Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House in Washington DC.

“Eighty-eight percent of all survivors identify as LGBTQQ,” stated Tina, “this statistic is unsurprising, given that trafficked teens are forced into all sorts of sexual situations during their formative years, and are therefore unable to discover their sexuality in a normal or natural way.”

While there is still a great need for services for female child victims, there are even less services available for males.

“There aren’t a great deal of organizations with the capacity or expertise to serve trafficked boys,” said Nicole Moler with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), “finding shelter and other social services for males of all ages has been a significant challenge for the hotline in most states.”

Tina Frundt, who is also a survivor of child sex trafficking, understands and emphasizes that every aspect of a child’s trafficking situation must be addressed in a loving and nonjudgmental way.  With that attitude in mind, Courtney’s House provides services for survivors – both male and female – aged 12-21 years.  It is one of only a handful of organizations that provides support for girls as well as boys.

“I started working with boys because I saw many boys who were sex trafficked with me,” said Tina, “There were no services for girls, or boys, at the time and that made it very hard to get out of the life.”

Tina stated that support has improved somewhat for female survivors of sex trafficking because advocates have worked to overcome the popular misconception that girls turn to prostitution to meet basic needs, a practice known as “survival sex.”  Tina pointed out that boys, however, have not been as fortunate to escape this illusion of choice and that this stigma makes it much harder for boys to find services.

Tina stated the following:

“At Courtney’s House we see the average age of entry for boys is 6 to 10 years old.  Even if he wanted to, a child of that age would undoubtedly lack the imagination and know-how to find his way into the life.  Unfortunately, that’s where the family comes in.  All of the male clients who Courtney’s House serves have been in the foster care system after leaving abusive parents who trafficked and manipulated them from an early age…

The issue of choice is a moot point.  Federal law says any child under 18 years old cannot sell themselves for sex.  The law protects them from this, but somehow we only think of girls, not the many boys who are also abused.  It’s a crime to abuse children, period.  We [at Courtney’s House] focus on sex trafficking of children both male and female, no matter what their sexual identity is – shouldn’t that be the norm?”

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And with disparities between the federal and local level, the law isn’t always on the child’s side.

“The first time I was arrested for prostitution I was 13 years old,” stated a 15-year-old male survivor from Courtney’s House, “Why was I charged if I’m a sex trafficking survivor?”

Tina wrote her curriculum to focus on transitioning the child’s mind, male and female, away from identification with the trafficking lifestyle.  Tina’s curriculum includes discussion of LGBTQQ issues surrounding trafficking situations for both boys and girls.  Courtney’s House serves children in the Washington DC, northern Virginia, and southern Maryland areas.

In the wake of Gay Pride celebrations, I urge the gay community to reach out and support organizations that provide services to those youth who are least supported in the anti-trafficking movement.  Please call the NHTRC hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to find an organization close to you.

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