When boys are sexually exploited

“I was treated like a pig” 16-year-old Patrick (not his real name) told an ECPAT social worker in an interview. He was one of the 30 boy victims of a British national who lived in their community for 10 years. “I am ashamed, and I didn’t like it. I only did it for the money,” he said. The boys, aged 6-17 years during the time of exploitation, lived in an impoverished barangay neighboring a notorious red-light district.

Patrick’s community is a preferred hideout of wanted criminals and other lawless elements. Many foreigners have chosen to live in the area because of the cheap rent and low cost of living. Some have already bought lands, built houses, and operated businesses in the locality. One of them was “Doug”, the British who enticed Patrick and his friends with 150 pesos per visit to his house, chocolates, shoes, and movie treats, among other things. In exchange, Doug asked the boys to get naked and perform sexual acts on him while being recorded by CCTVs installed all over his house. Numerous child sexual abuse materials were found on his computer when he got arrested for a string of child sexual abuse charges in 2014.

Though it has been several years since their abuser’s arrest, Patrick and his friends have lived with the serious effects of the abuse. Many of them got sexually transmitted infections, and while this could be treated in months to years, the inner trauma may take a while longer.

“Sometimes, I just stare into space, trying to forget about what happened. I feel like I’m going to go insane.” 15-year-old Bong, another one of the victims, shared. “I’ve been often fearful and angry,” another boy added. “He had a gun on his table all the time. I was afraid he’d shot me dead if I refused him,” he recounted.

When news spread throughout the community, the boys became the center of insults at their school. Being called pok-pok, a coined word for prostitute, or “Doug’’, the name of their perpetrator, only intensified their pain and shame, preventing them from living a normal life. “I don’t want to go out of the house anymore, so I can avoid the bullying,” said Patrick. “If only people would stop talking about it and just help us move on,” he hoped.

To help the boys heal and recover from their trauma, ECPAT provided them with psychosocial activities. Recreational activities such acting, drawing and playing allowed them to express their pent-up emotions. “I am hesitant to talk about what happened, but I think these activities help us to be heard,” one participant shared. “I liked the activities because I am learning a lot about how I should protect myself from abuse. I am looking forward to learning more,” said another child.

Any form of sexual violence seriously damages children’s overall wellbeing, whether they are girls or boys. Likewise, gender is one of the risk factors for child sexual abuse and exploitation. “It was difficult for the boys to disclose about the abuse. Young as they are, they are still males, who, in our society, are disinclined to admit they fell victim to any form of abuse. These ascribed roles hinder children from seeking help and getting the justice and legal remedies they deserve,” explained Amelia Suarez, Social Worker at ECPAT Philippines.