Gay and straight men as victims of domestic violence might not be something most people think of. But women in traditional marriages and relationships aren’t the only victims of domestic violence.
According to a study by the CDC, approximately 1 in 21 men said they were forced to penetrate someone else. About 1 in 10 men report they experienced rape or physical violence.
At Women In Distress, a Broward organization that provides assistance to individuals trying to escape abusive situations, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, Mary Riedel, president and CEO, estimates that about seven percent of the individuals her organization helps are gay or straight men.
“We always served men in our programs . . . We’ve had long standing partnerships with gay organizations.”
Just like women, Riedel said gay and straight men face the same types of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, and financial. “It’s not just women,” said Somy Ali, founder and president of No More Tears, an organization that assists victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. “People don’t realize how often this happens.”
Ali said a lot of teenagers who identify as gay become victims of sex trafficking because they run away from home due to a lack of acceptance on the part of their parents.
“I think that plays a big roll with domestic violence or human trafficking. A lot of these kids run away from home because their parents find out they’re gay. As a society, it’s our fault because of prejudices . . . It’s really sad and sickening.” She added that society needs to “unlearn” the hatred that causes LGBT children and teens to be rejected by their parents.
Children and teenagers who end up on the street are at a much greater risk for drug addiction and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Some even become victims of sex trafficking.
One such victim was a man from Hungary who came to the United States in 2012 and was sex trafficked that year. Now 26, the man, who asked that his name not be published, said he was held against his will by three gay men, two of whom were a married couple, and forced to have sex with men who paid them.
The interview was arranged via email through Nathan Earl, executive director of the Ark of Freedom Alliance, an organization that aims to prevent trafficking, violence, and the exploitation of adults and children.
“I was forced to have sex with them every day, even if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have a choice. Barley given food, I was kept with others without air-conditioner or windows. Forced to have sex with clients so they can have money. I was only allowed to sleep four hours or less daily. If I had client in that period of time, I had no sleep at all. We had to hurt each other . . . the three of them just laughed at us. They thought that was funny.”
He said they were able to keep him confined for so long because he didn’t speak English and was scared. The victims of sex trafficking are put into situations where they are isolated and have little opportunity to seek help. Not speaking the language of the country they are in is one of the most common barriers to asking for help.
“I knew they were watching us, even when they were not home. They kept my passport. I didn’t have money, no phone. I couldn’t ask the police because I couldn’t speak the language. Multiple times we ask clients for help but all of them turned away. They were watching us on webcam every day, all day. If we went offline they would come home right away. We were threatened many ways, like with a samurai sword. They hit some of us or hurt our families in Hungary. They had many connections with the police in my country.”
Asked what advice he would have for other individuals in his previous situation, “Don’t give up hope.”
Earl said that gender and sexual orientation have nothing to do with the “sexualized violence” that comes with sex trafficking. “It’s really about power and control. So sexual orientation has less to do with it than power and control.”
Just as Ali said that society needs to become more accepting of LGBT individuals, Earl said society also needs to be more accepting of the idea that it’s okay for men who are abused to come forward and seek help.
He said there are fewer specific resources for men who are abused than there are for women.
Although organizations like Women In Distress do offer assistance to men, Earl said the name itself, “Women In Distress,” can be a barrier to men because they think it makes them weak to seek help from an organization primarily designed to help women and girls.
“For the only resource for a guy to report to be a place called Women In Distress. That in and of itself compounds the stigma. [They think], ‘I should have been stronger and that somehow makes me weaker.’”
To overcome these stigmas and create more resources for men, gay and straight, Earl said men need to “step up” and speak out. “What we need are white cisgender men stepping up.”
Earl added that straight men themselves are mostly responsible for perpetuating the stereotypes and attitudes that make men more reluctant to seek help. “One of the myths is that guys who are being victimized or exploited or trafficked, society automatically assumes that person is gay. Half the trafficked men don’t identify as being gay. That doesn’t make you gay.”