In the fight against human trafficking, a local nonprofit says there are forgotten victims — boys.
The I-Team went inside a Central Florida safe house that’s the first of its kind in the country, the only home serving boy victims of sex trafficking.
“They’re often a forgotten victim of trafficking because we don’t allow them to be the victim,” U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT) Executive Director John Long said.
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Long runs the boys safe house for the non-profit, faith-based organization.
“We think that these boys are willing participants, that it’s a victimless crime, if the boy didn’t want to do it, the boy wouldn’t do it. But we know that that’s not true,” Long said.
In Florida safe homes, kids come voluntarily and can leave when they want.
“This is not just a place to sleep, this isn’t a holding tank, this is a place where we want to give kids real-life skills and real therapy,” Long said.
Long told the I-Team it’s often the boys’ first time talking with a therapist or visiting a doctor. All are enrolled in school and meet with a survivor mentor.
Long recalled a heartbreaking story, he said, when the USIAHT received a call about a 10-year-old boy.
“I picked him up and when he came to my car, he had nothing but a trash bag. And in that trash bag was nothing but stuffed animals. He had no clothes, he had no shoes, he just had what he was wearing. And he got into my car and I had never met this kid, and we started to drive away and he asked me to stop. And he looked at me and in broken English he wanted to know, ‘Are you safe?’” Long said. “He was reporting that he was being sold up to 10 times a day. Every day of his life since he was four years old. And so our home was able to provide him that safe place where his healing started, and where he was able to be a 10-year-old boy.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families’ Annual Human Trafficking Report revealed its abuse hotline received 1,900 reports of alleged human trafficking last year — 308 were for male victims.
“They estimated over 15% of minors that are trafficked in the state of Florida are boys,” Long said. “The numbers that are being reported are under-reported.”
The boys safe home has five beds.
“We currently only have three kids within our home, so our question is, where are those other kids going?” Long said. “They’ll either end up in the Department of Juvenile Justice facility, they’ll end up on the street, or they’ll stay in the life.”
Long said they rely heavily on state funding and donations from the community.
“It’s much more than just a bed. It represents a new life,” Long said.
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline or call 1-888-373-7888. If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.