A Rare Light for Male Victims of the Sex-Trade
You know the moment right before something bad takes place, where your knee-jerk reaction is to look away, fast? I do it when I know someone’s about to be hurt and I don’t want to see it happen. We all do. And it’s okay, for the most part, because it protects us from having unwanted images forever ingrained in our minds. Sometimes, though, turning away is just an easy way out—a means of pushing things away because we don’t want to deal with them. When it comes to male victims of human trafficking, I think this is what we do, as a society; we turn our heads from the boys. We choose to not deal with them.
Thankfully, Alezandra Russell, founder of Urban Light, a non-profit organization in Chiang Mai, Thailand, chose a different route—to face the problem head on. Since 2010, after selling her engagement and wedding rings for start-up money, Russell and her Urban Light team have worked tirelessly to spread the word on the human trafficking of boys and young men, particularly in Chiang Mai. “Urban Light is a place of empowerment that strives to illuminate new opportunities to an underserved and under-protected group of [boys] who have been ignored by their community and families,” explains Russell.
Oftentimes, males are unrecognized as victims of the sex-trade and, therefore, there are a lack of organizations that specifically aim to assist the demographic. In turn, this works to further marginalize male victims and discourages them from seeking assistance, due to fears of being stigmatized and further outcasted within their communities.
Urban Light aims to address these social stigmas through awareness programs and other key services, while its Youth Center acts as a place to rebuild, restore, and empower their boys. “Many of our boys purposely do not seek medical attention because of the fear and stigma that comes along with a life in prostitution and fear of judgment from doctors and nurses,” says Russell.
The organization’s outreach program is one of the six main services they offer their boys. The other services include education, health services—including STI and HIV testing—transitional and emergency housing, outreach, and prevention. They hope that their proactive strategy through the utilization of these services will encourage each boy to take the necessary steps towards self-care and guide them onto a path that is free from human trafficking and exploitation.
Last year, Urban Light helped over 100 boys with their services. In a blog post explaining her volunteer experience with Urban Light, Liana Ashenden writes about how she has come to view human trafficking since working with the organization: “The issues are extremely complex, but at the heart of it all are real, living, breathing, suffering boys. Teenagers with dreams of the future and hopes of bettering the lives of their families.”
A vital component towards Urban Light’s continued success is the funding they receive through public donations. “Funding is a constant battle, much like many non-profit organizations,” says Mandy Arora, a former Urban Light volunteer. “People should know that [their] donations go towards everyday expenses.” Such expenses, she says, cover daily meals for the boys, English courses, and healthcare, among other things.
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