I glanced back over my shoulder, half-disgusted at the realization that the girl smiling at me was likely a hooker, and half-disgusted at my ego for keeping me from realizing it sooner. She was still eyeing me, marketing her services with pursed lips, and my disgust melted to sorrow. While she may be engaging in the world’s oldest profession, it’s unlikely a career of her choosing. The United Nations estimates between 27-30 million sex slaves are trafficked around the world, either forced or deceived into the industry against their will. These victims are tricked, physically and emotionally abused, and drugged so their pimps can make a dollar. Really, my disgust should be aimed not at the girl, but at the pimp, right? …that greedy man with his purple fur coat and pointless cane; what kind of dirt bag would subject women to sex slavery for his own benefit? If we just find all these pimps and lock them up, we could end sex slavery forever. All we need to do is stop the evil men managing these girls, and the problem is solved.
Let’s consider an article from the Huffington Post written a few days after the largest sporting event in the country: “Super Bowl is Single Largest Human Trafficking Incident in U.S.” According to the article, the Super Bowl attracts over 10,000 sex slaves to its host city, serving a visiting population that is overwhelmingly male. Unless the NFL and the pimps have an agreement to supply the Super Bowl with sex slaves for the players, there may be more to solving the problem than by simply eliminating the pimps: we’ve got to stop the purchaser.
Today’s conversation surrounding sex trafficking focuses on the evils of the men controlling the sex slaves. The majority of sex trafficking laws aim at prosecuting the source of the trafficking, with the reasonable intent to nip the problem in the bud. Law enforcement agencies devote hours of investigation to finding the ringleader of the trafficking operation while politicians slam podiums in ostentatious oratory opposition to the pimps supplying the slaves. It is neither uncommon nor ineffective to aim efforts at the big fish: gun manufacturers and big tobacco are all too familiar with bearing the blame for the injuries their products cause to society. But just as society also blames the shooter or the smoker for purchasing the gun or the cigarettes, so should society blame the customer, or the “John,” for purchasing the sex slave.
Sex trafficking is an industry. It is subject to the same market theories of any industry: if demand for a product falls, then supply of the product will fall. Thus, a weapon in the arsenal against sex trafficking should attack what keeps demand high: the customer. Unfortunately, the current public conversation focuses almost exclusively on the supplier, letting the demander escape responsibility. To be clear, laws exist to punish the purchaser, but the laws need backup to achieve their purpose. The public conversation should expand to include the most culpable player in the crime. Alongside the campaign to provide assistance to sex slaves, efforts must also focus on raising awareness of what the Johns are promoting.
Most Johns do not consider and are not aware of the consequences of their lustful practice. To men, it’s a business transaction, like any other exchange of goods. For him, the cost is whatever crumpled cash he has in his pocket. He gives cash and in return he receives service. It’s simple. He does not think about the beatings, rapes, and other abuse his money is fostering. He does not think about the heartache and desperation engulfing the lives of these girls. He does not think about the person behind the flesh silently begging for freedom.
To combat sex trafficking, the Johns should know the consequences of their lustful practice. They should know their crumpled cash strips a girl away from her father and mother, beats the girl, rapes the girl, drugs the girl, mentally and emotionally devastates the girl. The Johns should know their twenty minutes of pleasure fuels a lifetime of miserable memories and irreparable damage to the girl’s well-being. They should know that it’s not a business transaction, it’s slavery.
Recently, public awareness has grown significantly as major organizations and media outlets direct resources to combat sex trafficking. The campaign to end sex trafficking has tons of support, but it needs broader strategies. While maintaining efforts toward the traffickers, attention must also focus on the customer. The blame is not all the pimp’s; it’s also the purchaser’s.