Chris and Anna Smith completed their search in 2014 for the perfect piece of property. They chose a large field in eastern North Carolina, and instead of building a home and starting a family, they are starting something much bigger: The first all-male sex trafficking victim’s shelter.
They plan to build the shelter in rural North Carolina in a large grassy yet serene area, that the Smiths believe will provide solace, escape, and freedom for the victims.
There’s a lot of misinformation concerning sex trafficking in general, but there are even larger misconceptions regarding the relationship between sex trafficking and boys.
There’s a preconceived notion that it’s mainly girls affected, but recently those ideas have been challenged as a result of many more boys coming forward or being discovered by advocate groups.
A study by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice found that almost half of commercially exploited children in New York City were young males.
“There was this predominant narrative out there that this is an issue solely affecting girls. Then we found all these boys, and we complicated the narrative a little bit,” said Meredith Dank, the manager of the research project.
Victims of sex trafficking need specialized “restorative” rehabilitation for the years of physical and emotional trauma, and yet few of them go to the police or seek assistance. In fact, many individuals who suffered abuse, especially children, don’t even see themselves as victims due large amounts of manipulation and self-blame generated by sex trafficking.
Male sexual and domestic abuse is not something often talked about in our society because of a stereotype of masculinity that suggests men are more aptly equipped to handle the psychological and physical ramifications of abuse.
As further research has proven that boys are heavily affected by sex trafficking, more and more support groups for boys are beginning.
Chris Anderson, CEO of Male Survivor, an advocate group for male survivors of sex trafficking, told NBC news that individuals “live in a society where ideas about what masculinity is, what a man is, what a boy is supposed to be or become, are influenced in many ways by very toxic, distorted myths. And one of the most damaging ones is the idea that a man can’t be a victim.”
Anderson is a victim of sexual abuse and trafficking himself. Anderson spoke of his experience and his feelings of hopelessness. Saying it took him 20 years to finally seek help and share about his experience. He calls this secrecy the “disclosure delay” and it’s extremely common especially among male victims.
Anderson described male victimhood as, “one of the least talked about and least known areas of sexual violence and sexual exploitation,”
Though it’s predominantly harder for boys to find shelters and refuge, it’s hard for female victims as well. The Polaris Project estimates that there are only 529 shelter beds nationwide reserved for victims of human trafficking. However, of those beds, only two are reserved for boys, showing that there are few resources available for young men affected by human trafficking.
Restore One, a Christian ministry that provides restorative care for victims of human trafficking, was started in 2012 by Chris and Anna Smith in Greenville, North Carolina. Though initially they set out to create a safe house for girls who were victims of trafficking, they soon were swayed to build a safe house for boys.
Chris Smith is a survivor of abuse and Anna Smith is a survivor of human trafficking. They say that this mission is their own way to fully confront their own personal trauma and heal.
The couple got the idea to start an all-male shelter from Anna’s former boss, the director of a shelter for human trafficking victims. At first she refused the idea, but after research, the couple changed their minds.
“We started to learn and started to see that boys were forgotten,” explained Chris Smith. “That their stories were real. That across America, boys, just like girls, are being sold for sex, and no one is talking about it.”
Anchor House, has been completed as of 2015 and resides in rural Greene County, North Carolina, surrounded by nature. They began building in 2014 and have finally completed the project after countless months of planning and preparation.
They plan to open their restorative therapy programs and shelter space to male victims by spring 2016.
Chris and Anna Smith wanted their shelter to rest in a secluded place with a lot of natural beauty to aid in the restorative care process, and provide safety and freedom to the survivors of human trafficking.
There has been some backlash from the community though. Community members are hanging signs saying “No Restore One Anchor House Here” in their front lawns. Many neighbors are concerned that there will be mentally unstable drug addicts and criminal boys joining the neighborhood and potentially bringing down housing values.
But Anna Smith is still committed to the shelter, “I guess it’s naïve to think that everyone would love to have a safe home for boys who have been sexually trafficked in the vicinity of their home. I feel like this is making history.”
And indeed, it is. This will be the first all boys human trafficking restorative care shelter and is finally bringing light to the serious issue and the untold stories of boys who are so unlikely to report their abuse.
The Smith family is also currently producing a documentary called “Boy$” to bring more information to the public regarding the relationship between boys and sex trafficking, with hopes of finally giving male victims and survivors a voice.