Many people contact Fight the New Drug to share their personal stories about how porn has affected their life or the life of a loved one. We consider these personal accounts very valuable because, while the science and research is powerful within its own right, personal accounts from real people seem to really hit home about the damage that pornography does to real lives.
Jose's story shows what it's really like to be groomed for abuse and groomed for sex trafficking. These are his own experiences, in his own words.
My name is Jose Lewis Alfaro. I grew up in a small conservative town in Texas. I grew up poor in the countryside with a father who was physically and mentally abusive. Neither of my parents was accepting of the fact that I’m gay.
As a young boy, it was hard to be myself around my father, fearing I would be punished, which happened often, because of my effeminate personality. As I grew older and began to realize that I could not change who I truly was, despite my efforts to suppress that truth, I began to fear what others would think of me if they learned that I was gay. Most of all, I feared what I was taught would happen to me.
As I began to experiment sexually, I would spend countless hours searching online for naked photos of men, as well as develop connections and initiate online conversations. I needed to determine if I was normal, or if something was “wrong” with me. I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to be who I was and show me the proper way to explore my sexuality.
The ideas already in my head were toxic and unhealthy examples that were engrained in me from a very young age when a teenage family friend would molest me at the age of five. But at that age, you don’t understand what is happening. All he told me was, “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you. This will be fun and it will feel good.”
At the age of fifteen, my parents went through my cell phone and read texts that revealed I was gay, and in response, my father violently physically assaulted me. He asked how I was going to be fixed—questions that I asked myself—hoping I could one day change. I responded with, “Please, move me somewhere new, somewhere I can start all over and I will change.”
Behind the scenes abuse and assault
Shortly following this altercation, I moved in with my aunt, 4 hours away from home. As much as I believed I could change, that ended shortly after I met Cody, a 36-year-old man I met online.
We agreed to a coffee date, except we never grabbed that coffee.
We went back to his apartment where he played a pornographic video of a teen having sex while he raped me. A familiar feeling from childhood overcame me as I was reminded as he echoed the same sentence I heard from my previous predator, “It’s okay, this will be fun.” After raping me, he held me and made me feel like it was all okay and he was going to protect me. Never realizing that he was grooming me for his own benefit, we met every other weekend until summer came and the semester ended, and I moved back home with my parents.
Upon my return, my father immediately confronted me and asked if I had changed. My experiences with Cody convinced me of my truth, and I responded that I couldn’t change and this was who I would always be. My father was so angry and made it clear I would need to comply with his demands that I change, and if not, then I needed to leave. I cried and decided my only option would be to move in with Cody. I was only 16 years old.
From Cody the abuser to Jason the trafficker
Even though I had Cody, I still had to learn how to live life on my own under full control of Cody and without guidance from a parent.
He raped me three, sometimes four, times a day. I felt this was what I was supposed to do, submit to him as he is the “man of the house,” all for the gain of his love. Here I was, letting abuse permeate the relationship, rationalizing it, convincing myself of the dissimilarities to my parent’s abusive relationship that also had unequal power dynamics.
It wasn’t until I learned Cody was sleeping with other teenage boys that I finally recognized what he was doing. I went back home with my parents with a fleeting hope they would accept me for who I was and nobody else could take advantage of me.
It wasn’t long until my father began to fight with me, and his blatant disapproval created a divide and left me feeling unwelcome. I went off to a friend’s house where I went online to find someone to help and met another gay man. He would later be known as Jason Gandy, a registered massage therapist who trafficked me through his massage business.
Jason chatted with me that day, reeling me in by showing instant empathy as I shared my story, and he asked if I had a place to stay. I told him the truth, that I didn’t know where to go, and he began to tell me how he could help. He told me that he had money from a pressure washer business he sold as a teenager, affording him a nine bedroom home in Austin, Texas, and that he would put me in a private school if I was interested.
I was hesitant, but my options were limited. After talking on the phone for several hours, he told me he was in Houston for business and that he could pick me up, ultimately making the decision to go with him. I later realized my vulnerability blinded me and his promises were false, all to paint a picture to entrap me.
After a few days in Houston, Jason told me that he knew a way I could make money, saving toward my future and one day live a life of my own without the help of others. He seemed to say all the right things, and I was hooked by this proposal since independence became my main goal following the downfall of my relationship with my parents.
Jason said okay, wasting no time to prep me, and he instructed me that if I was asked my age, I needed to say I was 18 and training under him. Jason was very fit and told me that to get business, I needed to keep a good physique, thus our routine began.
We woke up every morning starting the day with raisin bran cereal, followed by the gym, a lunch of lean protein and vegetables, a return to the gym, and then dinner, the meals similar to lunch. I became accustomed to this routine—and then the massages began.
How I was sex trafficked day after day
The first massage was booked, I anxiously waited in another room as Jason directed the client into the bedroom.
I was nervous, fearing I couldn’t do the job properly. I entered, confused as I walked in to see a mature man with white hair and a wedding ring, naked on the table. I turned to Jason, remembering to do as he did as he removed all of his clothing. I paused during this unanticipated turn of events, I didn’t want to have to get naked but realized I didn’t have a choice as Jason nodded when I made eye contact with him.
Jason closed the door behind me, locking it as the massage began. I followed the client’s lead, until he motioned for me to move towards the head of the table where the client sexually engaged with me. I wanted to escape, but in the moment, locked in a room with two adult men, I feared repercussions.
Throughout the three months that I spent with Jason, the massages never got easier and only increased in sexual aggression. It wasn’t until the last massage before making the decision to leave that I was raped by a client. I lacked any control over what happened to me and feared more for my life than ever before. Other red flags became unveiled as well, noticing Jason’s gross infatuation with children, followed by the discovery of child exploitation images on his laptop.
Ready for my escape, I took his phone and contacted Cody, asking him to pick me up and save me from the horror I had been living.
The slow spiral into webcamming and suicidal ideations
My relationship with Cody was off and on until I turned 18—an age too old for his liking. I began to go through depression, experiencing signs of PTSD and anxiety. I lashed out against him as I learned he was cheating on me again, and that ended with a trip to jail for assault.
I tried to finish college, but I no longer had the drive to become successful. The years of abuse by every aggressor convinced me I was not deserving of success nor independence. I was made to feel like I deserved the sexual and physical abuse I experienced. I no longer had respect for myself, resulting in a life of selling sex and performing in sexual webcam shows as a means of survival. The degrading lifestyle I was living quickly directed me to drugs and alcohol.
Soon after, suicidal ideations seeped in, and I believed that was my only way out.
Relying on sugar daddies to survive
A couple of years later in 2012, I had been traveling and sleeping with “sugar daddies” who would fly me all over the US. In return, I received money and gifts. It wasn’t until I flew to Boston where someone offered me a place to stay, rent-free, under one condition: I needed to go back to school. This is when I began a career in cosmetology.
A couple of years later, a friend visited and he explained to me that Jason was in prison for flying a 15-year-old boy to London to sell him through his massage business, as he did to me.
In 2018, six years after Jason’s arrest, I testified in a trial where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility for parole.
My choice to be a survivor instead of a victim
I am now in a much better place. It took a lot of recognition from others to see that what I had gone through broke me.
I needed to remember the person who I felt I was inside, and the only way I could get there was by healing my whole self. No one was hurting me anymore, and no one had control over me. I was now in control of my story and my destiny.
I can either be a victim and focus on the fact that my parents gave up on me, or how I was trafficked and sexually abused—or I can be a survivor. Now, I can tell you that no matter what you’ve gone through, you can always pick up the pieces and grow into a stronger and better person for it.
Massage businesses as trafficking fronts
Jose’s story is heartbreaking, but he is far from the only survivor out there who was trafficked through a massage business.
According to a report by the anti-human trafficking organization Polaris, in the entire United States, human trafficking is a huge booming business, operating in plain sight. Estimates claim that illicit massage business earnings total nearly $2.5 billion a year across the industry.
There are more than 9,000 illegally-operating massage parlors in America, according to Polaris’ study. The 2019 report, “Human Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses,” claims there is substantial evidence of workers being victimized, including being held against their will and forced to do commercial sex trafficking in businesses masquerading as being legit massage therapy establishments.
“This is the first comprehensive analysis of these particular businesses,” Polaris CEO Bradley Myles told HuffPost. “I don’t think anyone had an idea there is that many of them. The sheer volume of these businesses is astounding.”
According to one organization, across the state of Texas, there are hundreds of illegal massage businesses acting as fronts for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. These facades for human trafficking are hiding in plain sight: they exist all across some of Texas’ major cities, tucked inside some of the wealthiest neighborhoods.
Many can even be found within walking distance of public schools, according to the site.
Men and boys can be sex trafficked
It’s also worth noting sex trafficking stats. The common assumption is that if a child is trafficked for sex, it’s probably a little girl. But what is the truth?
In a research paper by ECPAT-USA, several informants said law enforcement had little understanding of commercially sexually exploited boys. For example, they believed boys are not pimped, and therefore not in need of services. The reality is, according to a Department of Justice-commissioned study in 2016, “Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade,” researchers found that boys make up about 36% of child trafficking victims caught up in the U.S. sex industry (about 60% are female and less than 5% are transgender males and females).
In 2020, boys made up 7% of child sex trafficking victims reported to NCMEC. Also, 78% of reports regarding online enticement involved girls, and 15% involved boys (in 8% of reports, the gender of the child could not be determined).
Related: How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking
The range of estimates comes down to underreporting, and the underreporting comes down to stigma. This is a problem because as organizations try to raise the alarm on sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, support services may continue to be in low supply for male victims simply because many people do not realize how they are involved and victimized.
Unfortunately, there seems to be less social support for men and boys who are trafficked or otherwise exploited by the porn industry. The historical script has been that women are vulnerable and men are aggressors—thus, when boys are abused, raped, or trafficked, they are often reluctant to come forward and seek help out of fear of their trauma being taken lightly. Or worse—they might have to face the social suggestion that if they were part of the sex industry, they must have wanted to be there.
But as Jose’s story proves, men and boys can be exploited, assaulted, abused, and trafficked. And none of this is acceptable.
Will you stand with us against trafficking and exploitation?