Kelly Sprague knew her husband had a problem. He thrashed about violently in their bed at night and tried cutting himself with knives.
The behavior led her husband, Matt Sprague, to visit a therapist, ultimately uncovering disturbing trauma from his childhood — he was a victim of child sex trafficking as a boy, abused in hotel rooms during Indianapolis 500 racing weekends. One of his own family members had sexually abused Matt as a child, selling him to other men up until he was 13 years old.
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“I remember being in hotel rooms watching TV and men, some I knew and some I didn’t know, coming to the door,” Matt recalled. “I don’t know if money, drugs or favors of some kind were exchanged. But my reward for doing what I was told was to go at the end of the weekend to the race and to pick out something at the gift shop.”
The Indy Star reports:
Matt’s downward spiral became so severe that Kelly more than once had to call emergency services because she was afraid her husband, diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and indications of a dissociative disorder, was about to kill himself.
In January, Kelly, with Matt’s consent, wrote a letter to the Indiana General Assembly seeking more and better services for trafficking victims, especially boys. After the letter was read aloud during a committee hearing, an Indianapolis TV station featured the Spragues in a story about Matt’s experiences.
Most policy discussions and media coverage focus almost solely on the exploitation of girls. But studies have found that boys are trafficked at significant rates. In 2016, a Department of Justice-commissioned study, Youth Involvement in the Sex Trade, determined that boys make up about 36 percent of children caught up in the U.S. sex industry.
In 2008, researchers from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice reported that boys account for about 45 percent of child trafficking victims in New York City.
Steven Procopio, clinical director of MaleSurvivor.org and specialist in working with victims of trauma, says it is common for victims of block out abuse they suffered as a child.
“When children are sexually abused, they may not have a clear definition of what happened to them,” Procopio said. “We feel like repressed memories are a safeguard until a person is ready to deal with what happened.”
“I remember as a child thinking that what was happening was normal. I thought every child experienced what I did,” Sprague says. “But when it stopped, everything become a blur. I tried to block it out as much as possible.”
Sprague now works with Indiana’s First Steps program, which assists at-risk children, and says sharing his story helps him find peace.
“It’s like weight is lifted off me each time I talk to someone,” he added.
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