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Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Transgender Persons

While victim caseloads and expert opinions based on assisted child victims of trafficking for begging and pick-pocketing allow some empirical discussion on the profiles of the children involved, there is no such reference point for determining the profile of boys, trafficked for sexual exploitation. Statistical evidence was provided in Bulgaria, where court decisions reveal that in the period 2011 – 2013 there were between 10 and 14 boy victims of “trafficking for debauchery” each year. This constitutes about one fifth of the victims of sexual exploitation. Nevertheless, the victims identified in criminal proceedings had not been referred to assistance. Similarly, in Romania few cases of boys were officially registered as victims of sexual exploitation in recent years. Eight cases of boy victims of trafficking were recorded by the Romanian authorities in 2012 and 14 were registered in 2010. Notably, the Romanian victims were also not referred for assistance. Although there are no identified boys victims of trafficking for sexual services in Hungary, the statistics of the Unified System of Criminal Statistics of the Investigative Authorities (ENYÜBS) show 5 cases of sexual exploitation of boys in 2013.

Research in all countries studied show clear indications that specific groups of boys and transgender persons of Roma origin are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and some have already been victims of sexual exploitation.

Prostitution of Roma boys and transgender persons was detected in the four countries, typically considered as origin countries for victims of trafficking. Previous studies in Bulgaria reveal a growing number of Roma transgender persons selling sexual services on the street. This phenomenon is attributed to the relative lack of stigma towards same sex sexual activities within the Roma communities studied and were also explained by a pattern of impoverished men engaging in sex for money. Boy and transgender prostitution is also present in Roma communities in Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

The international aspect of male and transgender prostitution was evident in all countries studied. The transgender sex workers originating from Bulgaria are very mobile, travelling mainly to Germany, Belgium and other Western European countries. Typical destination places that were found during research in three Bulgarian Roma communities included also Bоrdeaux, Paris, Saint Trope and other cities in France, as well as cities in Spain and Germany.

While the international aspect of boy and transgender prostitution of Roma persons from Eastern Europe could be detected, the element of exploitation, needed to provide evidence of child trafficking, is more difficult to determine. Across the countries studied an institutional homophobia and perspectives such as “male prostitution is voluntary” and is “gay business”  and undermine significantly the chance for detecting signs of exploitation and trafficking in persons.

Evidence from the studies in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia revealed that the “lover boy” method used to recruit female victims was also applied to approach boys and transgender persons, victims of sexual exploitation. The boys and transgender persons are approached by a known person with promises of protection, luxury items and wellbeing used to convince victims to travel abroad. The studies in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia revealed that peers involved in prostitution could also serve as recruiters. In several reported cases in Romania and evidenced cases in Bulgaria, the families of the boys and young persons were aware of the engagement of sexual services of the boys and transgender persons, but accepted this behaviour as it contributed to the family income. In Romania, kidnapping of young boys was identified by communities as a recruitment method for forced sexual exploitation. And finally, the study in Hungary revealed participation of some figures from the Church in an organised sexual exploitation of boys.

A significant factor of vulnerability to sexual exploitation of boys detected in all countries of origin is growing up in state care. The lack of adequate care and attention toward children growing up in so called “institutions” or “orphanages” – a legacy of the communist organised system for children deprived of parental care – leads to development of deviant and high risk behaviour at an early age. Physical and sexual abuse corrode any self-protection mechanisms that a child needs to develop in order to avoid exploitation. In addition, research in Slovakia and Hungary revealed that boys offering sexual services often suffer from various mental health disorders which are caused by a combination of factors such as unexplained and mainly undiagnosed mental health conditions, poor parenting, child abuse, sexual exploitation and other factors including abject poverty and gross material deprivation.

Significant efforts by service providers, street workers, child protection and counter-trafficking authorities are thus needed in order to direct trafficking identification efforts to boys and transgender persons providing sex services. The identification efforts need to take place both in the communities of origin, where male and transgender prostitution is usually a visible, yet ostracized phenomenon and in the countries of destination.

More detailed information on the topic of children trafficking for sexual exploitation of boys and transgender persons can be found in the Synthesis report.