Reproduced with permission from James Swift from the Shreveport Times, May 23, 2016
Editor’s note: The full names of the victims in this series are withheld to protect their identity. Full names only appear for those who’ve publicly identified themselves as a trafficking victim through books or documentaries.
A 15-year-old boy is tied to a chair at a Louisiana boarding school. He hears men in the room discussing prices and camera angles with his pastor.
This isn’t the first time, and he knows it won’t be the last.
He’s already lost count of how many times men have been allowed to rape and sodomize him. He waits for the inevitable, for his caregiver to leave the room so the abuse can begin again.
James Swift, 49, recently won the Next Generation Indie Book award for “Rusted Rhinestones,” his personal account of the sexual abuse and trafficking he experienced during conversion therapy at a faith-based boarding school in Arcadia, Louisiana.
“This happened so many times. I can’t begin to tell you all of the shame and guilt I still carry around with me to this day. I wish I could say it was over, but, it was not,” Swift wrote in an excerpt from his memoir.
“Many times the same two men would bring me to this room, tie me down and rape me. It felt like I was being ripped apart. It was bone chilling fear.”
Swift’s courage in openly reporting his experience is rare.
According to a 2013 National Academies report, males in the sex industry are harder to identify due to greater secrecy and an added stigma of homosexuality.
So while a majority of reported sex trafficking victims are women and girls, boys and men also are victimized.
“At times, there are underage boys who will get a higher wage than underage girls. They’re being forced and molested, the same as the young girls,” said George Mills, executive director of Trafficking Hope in Baton Rouge.
Forty-one men and boys were confirmed victims of sex trafficking in Louisiana in 2015, according to a February report from the Department of Children & Family Services. Of those, 10 were under the age of 17.
Jaco Booyens, an international director whose film “8 Days” addresses sex trafficking, said support services for male victims are highly lacking.
“There is hardly any support for young girls. It is even worse for young boys. The support groups are just not there,” Booyens said. “There are almost no safe houses for boys and very little direct outreach to them.
“It may be harder to find these male victims and for them to open up because abuse is a very shame-oriented issue, even worse for boys.”
Swift told his parents about the abuse. He said they viewed homosexuality as a sin and blamed him for what happened.
He ran away and, in order to survive on the streets, resorted to prostituting himself in parks in Monroe, where he caught the attention of police.
A judge court-ordered him to juvenile therapy, and Swift was sent to see a counselor at Monroe Mental Health, but Swift said his parents called and asked if he could take part in “pastoral counseling” instead.
The court agreed. Swift then became victim to “conversion therapy,” which attempted to change his sexual orientation through violent re-conditioning.
As part of this therapy, Swift remembered being shown a picture of two men kissing and then being shocked with a car battery. When his attraction to men persisted, he said his parents disowned him. He also was not received well in the surrounding community.
“I went into two soup kitchens in Monroe, and they would not even feed me. I went to the police, and they said, ‘How do I know you’re not making this up?’ There was nowhere for me to go,” Swift remembered.
“I was fifteen years old. It made me feel like I wanted to die.”
Part of the problem in identifying male victims is that society is more accepting of female victims than of male victims, Mills said.
“Young girls will pull on the heartstrings more than young boys do,” he said, “Underage boys is going to be another problem that needs to be addressed, but where do you get the funding and the donors for that?”
Swift works with two therapists and two doctors to heal from the abuse and the severe post-traumatic stress and social anxiety disorders he has been diagnosed with because of it.
Writing the nonfiction account of his abuse and trafficking brought its own healing and its own pain.
“I had to write the book a little at a time, because re-living it brought on panic attacks,” Swift said.
Swift said he survived for a reason. He will be sharing his story — and promoting his book — at the New York City Book Expo in August. He will also be sharing some powerful messages about the state of male sex trafficking in the country.
“These boys, there’s nowhere for you to go, and if you do get someone to listen to you, they don’t believe you or they blame you,” Swift said.
“It’s time to stop blaming the victims and start prosecuting the pedophiles, the traffickers and the pimps.”