Timmy was 18 years old and homeless when he was lured into the illegal sex trade.
Captors kept him on drugs so that Timmy often didn’t know where or even who he was. He eventually escaped with the help of someone who suspected a crime and alerted authorities.
Timmy, which is a pseudonym to protect his privacy, is sharing his story as part of a statewide effort to bring awareness to the growing sex trade of young boys and men and dispel the myth that it strictly victimizes girls and young women.
The digital and traditional billboards that read “Stop Human Trafficking of Boys,” and show pictures of young men will appear in 70 cities across Texas throughout 2022.
“Texas is ground zero in the fight against human trafficking,” Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said at a news conference Friday. “It’s happening in every community in our state, and it’s not just happening to females.”
Law enforcement officials and anti-trafficking advocates stood with Nelson on Friday along Interstate 35 in Denton County in front of one of the new billboards, which were donated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas.
Although numbers on the trafficking of males are difficult to estimate and considered underreported, the United Nations estimates that boys account for 15% of global trafficking victims, and adult men account for 20%.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 10,583 cases of human trafficking were reported in the U.S. in 2020. Of those, 1,257 were males.
To combat trafficking, the Texas Legislature last year provided a $10 million grant to Ranch Hands Rescue, a sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals and special needs children in Denton County. The nonprofit opened Bob’s House of Hope, a residential program to help male trafficking victims heal.
“It’s an insidious, horrific, criminal industry,” Ranch Hands Rescue CEO Bob Williams said. “We want to bring these unseen victims into the light.”
Both the billboard campaign and Bob’s House of Hope are the first of their kind in the country, advocates said Friday.
Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon said federal, state and local law enforcement are working together to fight human trafficking, which devastates children and young people.
“The victims don’t just get their childhoods and innocence taken away from them,” he said. “They’re stripped of dignity and respect.”
Two years after his escape, Timmy is living at Bob’s House of Hope, where he is working toward his GED and trying to regain some of his memory. He visited the Capitol in Austin this week to tell legislators his story, wearing a face covering to protect his identity.
For now, Timmy said, his new home has provided him with what he needs: a second chance.