Phillip Martin

Episode 48

Phillip Martin

Investigative Reporter & Award-Winning Journalist

Phillip Martin is an award-winning journalist and a senior investigative reporter for The GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting. He and fellow journalist Jenifer McKim recently created an investigative series, titled, “Unseen: The Boy Victims Of The Sex Trade,” that highlights the underreported issue of exploitation and trafficking of boys in the underground sex trade. Listen to podcast host Garrett Jonsson talk to Phillip about what led him to write about this topic and why it’s important to discuss this often-overlooked issue, and hear about some real examples of boys who experienced exploitation.

To read “Unseen: The Boy Victims Of The Sex Trade, Part I,” visit ftnd.org/gbh1.
To read “Unseen: The Boy Victims Of The Sex Trade, Part II,” visit ftnd.org/gbh2.


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Garrett Jonsson: My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.

And in case you’re new here, Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

We want these conversations to be educational, uplifting, and hopeful. As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some- you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning. Listener discretion is advised.

Today’s episode is with Phillip Martin from GBH News. He’s a senior investigative reporter for The GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting. He’s a multi-award winning journalist. He’s the co-author of Unseen. During this conversation we discuss Unseen, a series that sheds light on the boy victims of the sex trade.

With that being said, let’s jump into the conversation, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.

Phillip Martin: It’s a pleasure meeting you. And so sorry about the, uh, being late. I was rushing, rushing in, on a, on a bike to get back to my, my de…, (audio cuts out).

Garrett Jonsson: The fact that you rushed in on a bike makes it cool. [laughter]

Phillip Martin: [laughter] Okay.

Garrett Jonsson: I’m a big fan of cycling, so…

Phillip Martin: Okay, good. That’s good.

Garrett Jonsson: I’m assuming you meant a bicycle, right?

Phillip Martin: A bicycle. Yes. [laughter] Not a motorcycle. No.

Garrett Jonsson: I didn’t know if Phillip was rolling in on his Harley or…

Phillip Martin: [laughter] I would crash on a Harley.

Garrett Jonsson: Okay. Well, we appreciate you joining us and no problem on, you know, the, the tardiness I, I get it. And Sam said that you’re involved, you’re always involved in some cool stories. And so, you know, we, you know, we understand you’re a busy individual.

Phillip Martin: Yeah. As are you, but I am, and I appreciate the, uh, the leeway.

Garrett Jonsson: So we understand that, uh, you have a meeting to be two in about 30 minutes. And so we want to respect that timeframe. Um, before we jump into the conversation, do you have any questions for me?

Phillip Martin: I don’t, I don’t, I, I, I find it absolutely intriguing, uh, that you began a podcast on this topic. And so it’s, it’s fascinating, uh, in, um, and I could see why your audience is as significant as it is, uh, given the, um, uh, the, I guess, the attention to this and growing attention to it these days.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. Well, we feel fortunate to have you on the podcast today. Um, when we think about victims of the child sex trade, oftentimes we think about girls and young women. Um, but growing evidence suggests that thousands of boys and young men, uh, far more than previously thought, uh, fall victim to commercial, sexual exploitation as well. And yourself, and, uh, your coworker, Jennifer McKim. Is that how you pronounce it?

Phillip Martin: That’s correct. Jennifer McKim.

Garrett Jonsson: Um, Jennifer and Phillip are both award-winning reporters for GBH news. For the listeners that aren’t familiar with GBH. Can you explain what GBH is and where you guys are located?

Phillip Martin: Yeah. GBH is just a shorthand for the WGBH educational foundation. We’re a key part of PBS, uh, and the radio system. Uh, we put out programs of, uh, on radio and that includes the world and innovation hub. And on television, we’re responsible for Frontline, Nova, American Experience. Many of the programs that you see on PBS, um, many of the programs you hear on public radio come out of the GBH system. Uh, and I work on both the local side and occasionally internationally and nationally, uh, with, uh, the world and we’re, and we’re based in Boston.

Garrett Jonsson: Awesome. I’ve never been to Boston, but I know that I will make it there at some point in my life. It seems like a beautiful place.

Phillip Martin: It is indeed.

Garrett Jonsson: Well jumping into, uh, what we’re talking about today. You and Jennifer, you put out a two part series, like I mentioned, titled Unseen. Um, this series shines a light on commercial sexual exploitation, specifically on the boy victims of the sex trade. First off, Phillip, I think it’s important to define what is commercial sexual exploitation. Can you, can you talk to that?

Phillip Martin: Yeah, the, the, the, the shorthand that people use is , uh, and what it is, uh, essentially is when, uh, individuals exploit other individuals quite, uh, usually of those much younger than them, uh, where there is money involved or some type of, uh, uh, contractual or transactional, uh, process that is taking place. It’s either money, or it is housing or it is drugs. It’s, it’s it, uh, it’s something in exchange for sex. And the exploitation occurs of course, because it’s usually some more powerful person preying on a less powerful individual. The vast majority of people who are, uh, who are, uh, sexually exploited are poor people, disproportionately brown and black, uh, and, uh, and of course, mainly women, but as you pointed out, Garrett, there is another aspect of this as well, that which is rarely talked about, which is the exploitation of boys. Now we hear about the super exploitation of children. Uh, this grotesque, uh, practiced by some men around the world who basically engage in child pornography, uh, and worse of the rape and abuse of children. Uh, much of this is connected to something that occurs later, which is, uh, essentially buying boys and teenagers, uh, for money or to allow them to survive, uh, something that’s called survival sex. Um, and these things are connected to one another. Uh, so that is essentially what commercial sexual exploitation is. It manifests, uh, in forms of, uh, it manifests as trafficking, sex trafficking. Sex traficking, of course, legally means that anyone who is, um, exploited, uh, sexually under the age of 18 by someone else. Uh it’s it’s, uh, and there’s a transaction involved, that’s known as trafficking. You don’t have to move from point A to point B to go, you don’t have to go anywhere to be trafficked. But you can be, but you can be trafficked, uh, because of the, um, uh, the transactional aspect of the, of the relationship.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. It reminds me of the, the definition from the trafficking victims protection act (TVPA) like a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or like you said, if, if the person is under the age of 18.

Phillip Martin: That’s correct. Absolutely.

Garrett Jonsson: And yeah, I think that there’s a lot of nuance here. I think one of the misconceptions is that someone being trafficked, you know, they’re, they’re taken from their home, but like you mentioned, the reality is that someone can be trafficked and then go home and sleep at night in their own bed.

Phillip Martin: That’s true because of the keyword that you used in the legal definition that’s taken from the federal statute, which is you use the term coercion. And coercion is a, a large part of this, as you pointed out that it’s, it’s, uh, you do find occasionally women and men chained to things like radiators. Uh, and occasionally you do find where they cannot leave the apartment or building, uh, or for that matter a hotel, uh, without, um, uh, the permission of there, the term people use these days, uh, which is a horrible misnomer, uh, is manager. Uh, but, uh, these were talking about pimps, we’re talking about traffickers.

And yeah. And so, yeah, that’s, uh, that’s, that’s, that’s where we are today. Uh, movies like Taken have done a, um, a disservice, they, in one sense, they’ve, it’s a service in bringing attention to the human trafficking, but a disservice in conveying what that is.

Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.

Phillip Martin: A conveyance that is so, um, out of the norm, uh, where it basically, again, does more harm than good because it’s presenting a picture of trafficking that does not, that does exist, but it does certainly does not exist in the way that it is, uh, promulgated by these individuals.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, jumping back to how this, uh, this piece Unseen started, what was it that sparked a desire for you and Jennifer and GBH to perform this investigation?

Phillip Martin: Several years ago, I had completed a, uh, a, I focused on trafficking for many years. And one of the pieces I had done was on, on the illicit massage business. And at that time, a, uh, a social worker, uh, named Stephen Procopio sent me a note and said, “Look, I really appreciate that you’re focusing on this issue, but what about the boys?” That was his question. Uh, and his, his question led to us working on this, what is now a two part series of that is ongoing. However we expect by the end of this series, we will have seven or eight, uh, parts, uh, to this, uh, to this story.

Garrett Jonsson: How did you and Jennifer go about or approach this investigation?

Phillip Martin: We reached out to the anti-human trafficking community, uh, which includes groups like as, you know, Polaris Project, uh, which is now just simply going to Polaris out of Washington, which is the largest think tank and policy organization focus on trafficking. But we also looked at, we also reached out to local organizations that largely deal with, uh, the sexual trafficking of women and some labor trafficking. Uh, this includes a group called My Life, My Choice, uh, in, in, uh, Massachusetts. And then through them, uh, but particularly through Steve Procopio, the social worker. We, uh, we looked for individuals who have been impacted by this directly, what we found as we approach a lot of the traditional or anti-trafficking organizations, is that very few of them dealt with boys, dealt with the super exploitation of boys and young men, um, at, and that’s still the case where we’re finding a uh, very few deal with it, even though we found that as much as based on, uh, a, a national study in 2016, as much as it’s 30% of human trafficking cases involve boys and men, it’s a surprising statistic, but if you look at a place like Chicago and Atlanta, a significant number of individuals who are engaged in who are being prostituted, uh, those who are involved in survival sex as it’s called of those who are maybe, uh, deemed so-called “volunteers”.

Uh, and those are people who have figured this is their lot in life, the rest of their life, but many of them started off as individuals were exploited before they reached the age of 17. And one of those we interviewed, Garrett, was a young man named Chris Bates, who was 16 years old when he started selling himself. Uh, he sold himself on the internet to adult men. He sold himself to former teachers from the prep of, I should say the private school where he went to, it really wasn’t a prep school. It was more of a private school, uh, and within, um, within months of, and he was 16 at the time. And within months of his reputation group and people start seeking him out, men grown men, many of them are sensibly straight of, uh, who were seeking him out, uh, for, for sex.

So he’s one of the young men we reached out to. He was living in Connecticut at the time. Uh, uh, now living in Massachusetts, we also reached out to a young man named Jose Alfaro, uh who’s who was involved in a very well-known case out of Texas, where he was prostituted, uh, at the age of 16 and 17, uh, by a man, much older, uh, who used them for sex and then sold him, uh, to other men. Um, and, uh, and he essentially escaped one night following a very abusive situation, a situation where he in fact was raped by one of the clients. Uh, and for years, he’s been trying to tell his story and through GBH, uh, through, uh, Jennifer and I through the series, when we’ve been able to present his story, uh, to the, um, to those, if you will, outside of the LGBTQ community and outside of the, uh, the traditional human trafficking community of that is largely focused on girls and women, um, and should focus on girls and women. This is not to the, uh, this is not the takeaway from that focus, but it’s the say that it’s, that human trafficking is far more complex than any of us ever imagined.

Garrett Jonsson: That’s a true statement. And we just want to thank Chris Bates and Jose Alfaro for their willingness to come forward and share their stories, because it really does help in building awareness to have, uh, people like them that have experienced commercial, sexual exploitation to come out and speak about it. So big shout out to them.

Um, of the two people that that were highlighted in Unseen in this two-part series. One of them, you know, Chris Bates is a white individual, Jose Alfaro is a Mexican American. Um, and so the reason why I mentioned their races is because you talked about how black and brown people are people that are at greater risk to experience commercial sexual exploitation. And I’m just wondering if you can talk to some of the data showing that this is the case?

Phillip Martin: Sure. Absolutely. Jose Alfaro essentially led us through, uh, his spoke about his story and it was a narrative. It was a way of like understanding how black and brown boys are impacted disproportionately, uh, by human trafficking. And it… much of it is of course, economically determined, uh, human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable and the most vulnerable in our country tend to be the poor in general, but also the most vulnerable tend to be those who are impacted by racism and discrimination. Uh, they, they are black and brown people, and black and brown boys in the context of this, uh, of this, uh, study and information. We looked, for example, at one study carried out, uh, by Lori Shaftner, university of Illinois, uh, professor emeritus.

And she, uh, was, uh, tasked with basically looking at who, who, uh, who in Chicago made up the vast majority of people who were sexually exploited among men. And what she found was that, uh, 58% of the sex trade period of, uh, were involved, um, a male youth, uh, biological male youth. And that the vast majority of them in Chicago were black and brown, uh, selling their bodies in exchange for a roof over their heads or food on their plates, or, uh, or to, to make it a living. Uh, and she essentially, um, looked at what were the reasons for this well, systemic racism of that resulted in poverty, uh, uh, extreme unemployment. That is to say almost unemployable, not because quite often that they, uh, uh, their sub education though, that is a factor, but more often because of who they were and where they came from, some of the most impoverished areas of Chicago.

And then of course in major factors, housing discrimination, which can, which compelled of these young men to trade sex for survival. And Shaftner found that she spoke to a number of people who participated in the study and how she got them to participate in this study was the course. She offered money to those who were up trafficked because people don’t come forward, uh, with, uh, especially boys and men. They do not come forward to talk about being trafficking. Uh, but she went into parts, uh, and, and, and said that, uh, and, and, and other places into, um, uh, homeless shelters and found a number of boys in bed, who said they were, that men came up to them, offered them money. And then, and then in exchange for that money, they had sex. Now, some of these boys and young men, uh, were, are, were straight, um, ostensibly, uh, they, but they said they participated in gay sex for money.

Um, and again, as, uh, in Chicago, an extraordinary percentage, uh, were, uh, as much as 58% of those involved in the sex trade, according to this study, um, were, were boys. Now, we also found that, um, the I’m looking at the stats on the Chicago sex trade study and that 80% of them were, uh, black, African-American 7% Latino, uh, depending on where you go, uh, these, these, uh, I mean, that’s a very high, I’ll present it in Chicago at the highest percentage, but you also find a high percentage of, uh, exploited individuals and an extraordinary, uh, uh, percentage of them, um, being boys out of, uh, the Atlanta Georgia area as well.

Garrett Jonsson: And if you look at the case with Jose Alfaro, to drive home that point that, um, black and brown boys and young men are disproportionately at risk, in Jose Alfaro’s case, there were three out of the four documented victims who experienced commercial sexual exploitation at the hands of the perpetrator, Jason Gandy, three of the four were Latino. Is that, is that correct?

Phillip Martin: That’s right. That’s right. Um, yeah, I think, uh, Garrett, just for a second more about the Jason Gandy case again, uh, was someone who was convicted in a well-known federal case in 2018, he was convicted of prostituting, uh, trafficking, Jose Alfaro, off of farro and others, including the, um, the other Latino boys you just mentioned. Um, and how, uh, Alfaro came to know him is fairly typical in the way these things happen. Um, when they discovered that he was gay, they said, “You either go to conversion therapy, or you’re out of here.” He, uh, over a period of time, he thought, “Well, I’ll try conversion therapy.” And then he realized that that’s not something that can possibly work. So he basically called it a day and said, “I cannot do this because it is not me.” He was kicked out and it having no place to go, he put, uh, he looked through a, um, I think it’s called, uh, uh, .com, a website.

And this is how a lot of the quote unquote “hookups” occur through websites. And, and he found, uh, the person who responded to them was a fellow named Jason Gandy. Gandy, uh, told him when he took him to his home, uh, that, um, in order for him to stay there, he’s going to have to work. And the work that he wanted him to do was to work as a masseur and, uh, Alfaro, told GBH, told us, “Well, I can do that. I can, I can learn to do that.” But what he was taught, however, was to give sexual massage. And one thing led to another until he was finally raped during one of these sessions. And that is also when he had that a moment where he felt “I have to leave.” Uh, he, however, did not leave the sex trade if, uh, as it’s called a lot of people don’t like that term, but for lacking another term, he did not leave the sex trade. He for a long time traded sex for something of value, uh, that included, uh, money, shelter, and food. Uh, and he eventually ended up in Boston, courtesy of a quote, unquote, “Sugar daddy.” Uh, and it was here in Boston where he, uh, fell in love with someone and abandoned his life of trading sex for something of value. By that time, he was about 21, 22 years old, but this began with his exploitation by Jason Gandy, uh, when he, uh, had just turned 16.

Garrett Jonsson: And I think that, uh, a layperson may not know that, you know, individuals experiencing, cause in Jose Alfaro’s case because he was kicked out of his house, he was then experiencing homelessness. And I think that a layperson, you know, we don’t realize that individuals experiencing homelessness are at greater risk for this type of thing.

Phillip Martin: Absolutely, absolutely. That’s you hit the nail on the head. Um, Polaris again, the think tank that’s focused on stopping human trafficking based in Washington, DC, finds that it is one of them more. That is, it is an acute factor in determining who will be exploited, who will be sexually exploited, homelessness of course, leads to foster care. The foster care under most circumstances works out for a number of youth, but others, it simply doesn’t. Uh, when they get out of foster care and have no nowhere to go, oftentimes it leads to their exploitation. Sometimes that exploitation takes place, of course, as we know within foster care. Uh, but I don’t, but I don’t think we should exaggerate the number of cases of where that is applicable. Though it is significant, uh, but it does homelessness leaves youth, uh, particularly vulnerable, uh, to commercial sexual exploitation.

There was a 2016 national study conducted by the federal administration for children and families. Uh, that found a, a large number of kids, um, had traded again, something of value including, uh, had traded sex for something of value that included money, uh, shelter, and food. These researchers spoke to 873, uh, young people, uh, boys ages 14 to 21, in 11 cities that included Boston, um, for the study. And again, found that a significant number were boys and trans females.

Uh, and by the way, Garrett, our next two series deal with a) uh, the internet and the role that the internet plays. And two, it focuses on trans females, um, uh, who are, are perhaps the greatest victims disproportionately. Um, and so, that particular, um, complex situation, uh, has also led to a complex way of approaching, uh, the trafficking of our trans females.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. And I think it’s safe to say that things like transphobia, homophobia, other stigmas, shame, all these things increase the likelihood of victimization or a continued victimization.

Phillip Martin: That’s correct. That’s absolutely correct.

Garrett Jonsson: Um, you know, I know we only have a few minutes before you have to jump off, because we only have a couple minutes left. I just want to ask, in your opinion, what can be done to fight commercial sexual exploitation?

Phillip Martin: I think, I think the first thing is to acknowledge it. And that is to say, let’s engage it realistically, uh, that sexual commercial exploitation is real. It is exacerbated by the internet without question and among its victims are boys and young men. And the, uh, and so let’s, first of all, acknowledge that where you may not hear about it as much, but it is a fact. And again, you do not hear about it as much, largely because the boys and young men, because of shame, they don’t want folks to know that they’ve been exploited. But what we can do is understand that this goes on and to help individuals who are, um, who may be impacted by this and how do we, how do we find out if no one is telling, we basically talk with legitimate organizations, uh, like the Polaris, uh, uh, group, and local organizations that are focused on human trafficking, uh, and, uh, and some acknowledgement, uh, Garrett is the first thing.

Uh, the second thing is to engage those organizations that are working to eliminate human trafficking and all its forms, including the super exploitation of boys and young men. And of course not everything is, uh, is, is in the context of trafficking. There are other forms of sexual exploitation, uh, that occurs that may not involve a, um, uh, that may not involve money, but does involve again, uh, uh, trading sex for something of value other than money that might include just a couch or place to stay overnight.

Garrett Jonsson: Right.

As I was preparing for the conversation today, I couldn’t help but think about, uh, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And, uh, just knowing that that’s, I know that oftentimes it’s, it can be, you know, criticized for being oversimplified, but I think it can be a helpful tool to understand human motivation and these individuals who often are experiencing, or, or get into the life of sex trafficking or brought into the life of sex trafficking it’s because some of those human, those basic human needs are not being met. And therefore, just like you mentioned, it’s referred to as survival sex.

Phillip Martin: That’s right. And that’s a good reference, uh, because, um, I just think about what you would do or wouldn’t do in order to, to survive. Uh, and I’m not talking about you, Garrett, I’m just talking about our audience, what would folks do to survive? And we don’t know, we don’t know until we are basically put into that, uh, we are put to that test.

Garrett: Right.

Phillip Martin: Um, there are things we, we say to ourselves that we would never do, uh, but you never know. And, and that’s what those things have to be. The conditions that breed desperation have to be addressed if we are to deal effectively with human trafficking, housing has to be addressed effectively as does, um, uh, the, the type of systems that exist in many states, uh, that are woefully inadequate in, in, um, in addressing the needs of children, of boys and girls for that matter, uh, are often underserved. Uh, and, and a lot of that has to do with the lack of money. We, we commit money for all types of things. So we have to put money into housing and to taking care of our youngest members of our society in order to prevent, uh, the, uh, the desperation that occurs at a later age and the exploitation that occurs, uh, at an early age and continues for many of these young people through life.

Garrett Jonsson: Right. Well, we want to thank you for the investigation that you have performed, and your continued efforts to investigate this. We also want to thank GBH News. Before we, our time has expired. Uh, we’re actually one minute over. Is there anything you’d like to mention before ending the conversation?

Phillip Martin: Garrett, I just want to say, I think it’s really vitally important that you are doing exactly what you’re doing. Uh, keeping a focus on the pernicious impact of, of cert images in our society, uh, that, that continued basically to undermine of, of reality basically, and how we look at girls, how we look at boys, how we look at each other, uh, that imagery of is, uh, is, is vital and important of, uh, negative influences, uh, for, of, uh, for human trafficking, because it basically presents a picture of what of someone’s concept of what a, a boy should be or what a band should be or what a woman should be per primarily of, and, and girls it under it, it basically strips away dignity. Uh, so what you’re doing, I think is, uh, uh, is, is, is performing an important service.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, we appreciate that. Yeah, that’s part of our mission statement is to fight exploitation through education. And so that’s the goal. Um, again, thank you so much for joining us today. Um, and we look forward to, uh, part three of this series.

Phillip Martin: Thank you, Garrett. Yeah, part three. Again, we’re focused on the internet part four, or we’re looking at, um, uh, the exploitation of trans youth. Uh, and at some point in our series of Unseen, we’ll be talking about, um, American travelers to places like Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other countries, um, who sexually exploited boys and teens there. Uh, and we’re looking, uh, this includes a recent report that offers a glimpse into that world, put out by a group called, uh.

Garrett Jonsson: Well, maybe in the future, we can connect again, as this series continues to unfold, we can connect, connect again to chat about, uh, these other aspects of the issue.

Phillip Martin: Okay. Thank you, Garrett.

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Garrett Jonsson: Thanks for joining on this episode of Consider Before Consuming.

Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug.

Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.

If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest and the conversation we had, you can check out the links included with this episode.

Again, big thanks to you for listening to this conversation. As you go about your day, we invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.


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