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Speaker brings trafficking of males out of the shadows

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Jerome Elam
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Jerome Elam 's introduction to a pedophile ring was being raped and beaten by all 10 members.

He was 5.

For the next seven years, he was slapped, punched and sold for sex and child pornography by his mother's boyfriend. At age 12, Elam attempted suicide "in my mother's favorite rose garden," he said. Instead, he heard a voice telling him he was on earth to make a difference. He awoke in an emergency room; doctors had seen the evidence of his abuse on his body, and much of the nightmare was over.

At 17, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was "able to leave it all behind," Elam said.

Now president and chief executive officer of the Trafficking in America Task Force , Elam travels the country to spread awareness of the issue of male victims of sex trafficking. He was in therapy for 25 years, he said, but "after Jerry Sandusky came along," Elam's mission intensified.

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A former assistant football coach for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Sandusky was charged and convicted of 42 counts of sexual abuse of children, mostly males. He was sentenced in 2012 to 30-60 years in prison.

Though Sandusky's charges didn't involve trafficking, the high-profile case proved that boys, too, are sexually exploited. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates up to 300,000 children are at risk of being forced into prostitution, pornography and sexual slavery in the U.S.; estimates hit nearly 3 million worldwide. Nearly half are male.

"We've gotten really good at identifying young females who are trafficked," Elam said Tuesday during a three-stop visit to the area, "but boys are typically looked upon as the perpetrators, not the victims."

Without question, trafficking occurs in Rochester. A 36-year-old Bloomington man was sentenced in September to 33 years in prison for sex trafficking three females; one was a 12-year-old from Rochester.

Awareness, Elam said, is key: "It's a matter of turning that rock over and exposing it for what it is. If we can take an hour and learn CPR, then we can take an hour to learn about sex trafficking."

In addition, he said, "we need to make sure the laws keep up with the crimes. We need to be better at prosecuting those who buy (minors for sex) and those who sell. It's a very lucrative business, unfortunately."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports pimps can make from $150,000 to $200,000 per year for each child. Pimps have an average of four children; the Polaris Project , an anti-trafficking nonprofit, reports the average victim of sex trafficking is forced to have sex 20-48 times per day.

It all adds up to $9.5 billion every year in the United States.

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The traffickers "don't all look like Charlie Manson ," Elam said. "They aren't necessarily street-level criminals." In fact, an estimated 36 percent of victims are trafficked by family members. Boyfriends, friends of the family and employers also are involved; only 9 percent are trafficked by strangers, according to the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act.

Children can start learning about how to protect themselves by age 5 or 6, he said, with discussions of caregivers' unconditional love, good touch-bad touch and a support system of trusted adults, "but it's about repetition. It needs to be an automatic response.

"These individuals are so ruthless, so conniving, that they'll stop at nothing to traffic" a child, Elam said, typically "enticing and luring" their victims.

The average life expectancy of a trafficked child is seven years, according to the 2015 FBI report on crime . Elam just made it, thanks to a great-aunt who showed him unconditional love, he said.

It also was a woman who encouraged him to go to therapy, something he said is common.

"Most males feel more comfortable with women because most of them have been abused by men, trafficked by men," Elam said. "It took a woman to show me what courage is.

"Going public was one of the most healing things I could've done," he said. "Every time I speak or write, it's me yelling at my trafficker at the top of my lungs, 'You didn't break me.' This will always be a part of my life, but it will no longer define me.

"If I can leave this earth and know that I've saved even one child from facing the hell that I endured," Elam said, "then my work is done."

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To report sex trafficking anywhere, call local law enforcement at 911 or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, take the following actions: Ask the person if you can help them find a safe place to go immediately. If they need time, create an action plan with them to get to a safe place when they are ready. Call and make a report to the human trafficking hotline at 888-3737-888. The hotline has language capabilities, so any individual can call directly if they choose.

Who's at risk?

• history of physical/sexual abuse

• runaway or homeless

• alcohol/drug abuse

• dysfunctional family

• involvement with courts

• poverty

• mental health issues

Signs of trafficking:

• fear of adult male/boyfriend

• hotel key cards

• bruises/scars

• alcohol/drug use

• many sexual partners

• doesn't attend school/many absences

• social interaction issues

• picked up at school by different vehicles

• prepaid cellphones

• multiple fake IDs/lying about age

• explicit profile on social media

What's needed:

• education/prevention programs that highlight boys as victims

• mandatory training for health care professionals to recognize boys as victims

• end stereotypes that boys can't be victims

• support for children leaving foster care

• collaborations between nongovernment organizations and law enforcement

• more specialized mental health services to deal with victims, especially male victims

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