The “Secret Survivors” of Sexual Exploitation

January 17, 2024


“Gavin” came to Gracehaven recently as one of the often “overlooked, unseen and unhelped” male survivors of exploitation and trafficking.

“He had a history of anxiety and issues developing relationships with adult males that he doesn’t know due to his past sexual trauma,” explained Supervising Comprehensive Case Manager Carrie Rapp. Her five years of experience with Gracehaven youth — including working with an increasing number of male survivors aged 11 to 19 — equipped Carrie to help “Gavin” feel safe and supported so that he could effectively participate in the program, receive services and learn about human trafficking prevention.

As “Gavin” was closing services with Carrie, he shared an incredible vision he now has for his future, thanks, in part, to Gracehaven.

“He found the need for men who support other men in their healing to be very compelling,” said Carrie. “He said he would actually like to get involved one day in helping other survivors of abuse.”

“Gavin” is one of six Central Ohio youth clients in the past six weeks to graduate from Gracehaven case management. This is a major milestone for our Columbus-based staff and a testament to what a full team of trauma-informed, compassionate care providers can offer boys and girls to help them pursue their individual case goals. (These might include learning about risk factors and safe relationships; developing safety plans and healthy boundaries; or modifying behaviors and managing moods.)

It takes a lot of courage to come forward to seek services and a lot of determination to finish. Given cultural norms, it can be especially difficult for young men. “It’s just a myth that males can’t be trafficked or taken advantage of,” Carrie said. She has worked with boys who were sexually solicited by strangers, exploited by romantic partners and even trafficked by their own parents.

Statistics show that one in six U.S. males will be sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. Gracehaven has been able to sensitively serve at least 19 young men in recent years. Learning to better serve male survivors like “Gavin” has actually changed the way Carrie says she now approaches all her clients, from a universal education model to motivational interview techniques.

Inclusive services also require reconsidering the common female-centric narrative of trafficking victims; re-wording gender-specific programming; and re-imagining awareness campaign imagery. This is especially important when research shows that male survivors are less likely to self-identify as victims, self-report or express emotions in contrast to societal expectations.

Carrie’s most successful interactions with male survivors have included straightforward language, more laughter and fewer feelings-based conversations. “When you aim for the head, you may get the heart thrown in,” Carrie shared. “But if you ask him directly how he feels about his situation, he may shut down entirely.” She recommends affirming, rather than pitying, survivors and recognizing the efforts they’re making. “I see you trying” is an incredibly powerful statement, Carrie said.

Due to the unique support “Gavin” was able to find at Gracehaven, he told Carrie that “he wants to provide mentoring, advice, or friendship to other men one day and join the anti-human trafficking movement as an adult. He even hopes to obtain employment in the field in the future.”

It may be a challenging field, but for Carrie, and many others, it offers a truly rewarding career.


Would you like to work with at-risk or exploited youth? Or do you know someone who might be interested in joining our team? Gracehaven is hiring! We currently have an opening for a comprehensive case manager in the Toledo area; having a full case management staff there as in Central Ohio would allow us to add to our caseload and serve more girls and boys like “Gavin” at a greater capacity.

Learn more today at