The Flip Side of Trafficking: Demand

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We normally approach the topic of sex trafficking from the victim’s perspective, because the horrors that these tortured women and children endure hour upon hour, day after day, must end. The more we raise awareness about this issue and enact programs to rescue victims, the sooner they have a chance at a renewed life. But in this article, we will look at the problem from a different angle: the demand side.

Most people who pay for commercial sex acts are men. They come from all walks of life and all income levels. The only thing they share is the desire to buy a woman or child like a commodity in order to “own” a human being for a short time. This man, known in common lingo as the “john,” wants the woman to make all his desires come true and act like she enjoys it. He doesn’t care how she got into prostitution. Was she trafficked from another state or country? It doesn’t matter as long as she can perform. Was she or is she a child victim now caught up in this horror? It’s not his problem; he likes the way she looks and is willing to pay for it. And besides, what’s the likelihood he’ll get arrested, right?

Soliciting a commercial sex act is illegal in the United States, except in several counties in Nevada. Still, men usually get away with this crime because law enforcement has typically gone after the prostituted women and children. The victims have been punished and the perpetrators are free to use, exploit and abuse them, and then go home.

When President Bush signed H.R. 972, The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005, into law in January 2006, he said, “The bill I sign today will help us to continue to investigate and prosecute traffickers and provide new grants to state and local law enforcement. Yet, we cannot put the criminals out of business until we also confront the problem of demand. Those who pay for the chance to sexually abuse children and teenage girls must be held to account. So we’ll investigate and prosecute the customers, the unscrupulous adults who prey on the young and the innocent.” (Emphasis added.)

The United States has led in combating sex trafficking worldwide, and the provisions in Title II of H.R. 972 now direct part of that focus back at America’s streets. Trafficking occurs everyday right here in the United States, and not all victims are from other countries. Yes, many victims are brought into the U.S. from other countries, but it is also true that girls and boys, men and women from cities all across America are trafficked from one state to another. Prostitution rings often transport victims to new states every few weeks to keep the supply fresh for the customers and to keep the victims dependent upon their captors.

The TVPRA of 2005 establishes a grant program for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute traffickers, pimps and johns. If caught, the johns may have the option of attending a “john school.” The “john school” was started by Norma Hotaling, founder of the Sage Project in San Francisco, to educate men arrested for soliciting a commercial sex act about the harm they perpetrate on women and girls, risks they face for being involved in prostitution, and the harm they do to their families, communities and society. The recidivism rate of men in San Francisco who attend this school is 2 percent. These school sessions also give the prostituted women and girls a chance to face the johns and tell them that prostitution is not a victimless crime.

In Chicago, those arrested for soliciting prostitution risk a public unveiling on the Internet. The Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office now post the names and charges against those arrested for patronizing or soliciting for prostitution. The one drawback is that this method causes pain and suffering to spouses and children of those arrested. However, in the long run it will hopefully make people think twice before they commit this crime.

Where would sex trafficking and prostitution be without a john willing to purchase another human being for sex? Out of business. Dr. Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s (CWA’s) Beverly LaHaye Institute, has worked for nearly a decade in the nation’s capital to end trafficking. “The demand fuels the industry,” she said. “Unlike drugs which are only useable once, a human being may be sold over and over again, sometimes 30 times a day, to make money. When a victim is used up in one market, he or she can be sold to another pimp, transferred into another area or moved into another aspect of the criminal activity.”

If a john is willing to pay more for a young virgin, a small boy, an Asian woman, an African teenager, or some other special characteristic, the trafficker will acquire the desired victim. The demand is great, the supply is seemingly endless and getting younger.

As a citizen, take action by refusing to accept the “pimp and ho” culture that television, music and movies normalize. Society must say that prostitution and trafficking are not victimless crimes, and people who pay for commercial sex acts are criminals who should be shamed, held accountable and punished. We cannot continue to punish the victims and normalize the aberrant and selfish behavior of johns.

With the passage of H.R. 972 and the hard work and dedication of the people working on the frontlines to end modern-day slavery, the hope is alive and well that trafficking and prostitution will be eradicated in the United States and worldwide.

Brenda Zurita is Coordinator for CWA’s Crossing the Bridge Project.

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