Trafficking tends to bring to mind images of women in sex slavery. Images of men held in slavery are more rare. According to the latest report by the U.S. State Department, trafficking in men is significantly on the rise. In 2006, men made up six percent of trafficked adults. By 2008, that figure had risen to 45 percent.
According to a piece on The Houston Chronicle, Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, attributed the increase to an uptick in labor-trafficking cases. Seventy-six percent of all human-trafficking victims certified in 2008 were victims of labor trafficking, he said, while sex trafficking accounted for 17 percent. Five percent of victims were subject to both forms of trafficking.
Maritza Conde-Vazquez, a special agent with the Houston FBI who specializes in human-trafficking cases, said there has been an increase locally in the number of male human-trafficking victims, primarily from Central and South America. The majority of the cases, she said, involve forced labor at construction sites or in agriculture. She said she could not discuss details of the cases, which are still under investigation.
Conde-Vazquez also attributed the growth in the number of male victims in part to an overall increase in human trafficking. The State Department estimates that 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, but the vast majority are never identified as victims.
Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition, which helps human-trafficking victims, said the actual number of male victims is most likely significantly higher than reported.
“Male victims are really under-reported,” Trujillo said. “I think there’s just a bigger stigma for men. Some see (reporting) it as losing face, or just take it as their lot in life.”