Stop Shaming Women, Start Arresting Pimps and Johns

The headline in the feed from my local news station declares “Reading Police bust 8 women in undercover prostitution sting.”  Then there was the picture: 8 women each with clear bruises on her face, all looking totally dejected.

My first thought – where are the pictures of the pimps and the johns (customers) who have inflicted the bruises on these women?  Why arrest and publicly shame women who are clearly victims?

The use of the word “bust” in the headline is a vain attempt to make this sound like some sort of major accomplishment by the local police force.  But it is easy to arrest women who are selling themselves.  It is also rather pointless as the pimps will just find more women, perhaps move to another location, and keep the business rolling.  Why not arrest the pimps?  I fear the answer is that it is harder.

After all, here is how the story starts:

Complaints about prostitution have helped police put a dent in one Reading neighborhood’s illegal sex trade. Investigators said the city’s prostitution problem has been an ongoing issue in certain neighborhoods, so RPD vice officers went undercover Monday night in the area of South Eighth and Chestnut, the 500 and 600 blocks of Chestnut and the 400 and 500 blocks of Franklin streets. “I see girls walking up and down the street basically getting in cars all day long. It causes a lot of traffic in our neighborhoods that don’t need to be here,” said Walter Fackler, a resident of the neighborhood.

Complaints by residents are totally understandable.  Frustrations of increased traffic also makes sense.  Who wants traffic clogging their neighborhood? Arresting these women seems like a win for the neighborhood and the city – the police have a big headline and the neighbors are happy.  Of course, I wonder again, why not go after the pimps…you know, the ones who are literally the reason for the increased traffic!

“It brings a negative impact to the city that we’re trying to make a better place,” said Sean Moretti, who sits on the board of directors for the Reading Main Street Program.  Moretti said he’s seen the illegal activity outside his office on South Fifth Street, and now he’s praising the police. “We call and complain and I’m glad they’ve done something about it,” Moretti said.

Yes, the police did something.  And this “something” may have helped this one community, at least for a time.  But this “something” they did is not going to put a dent in prostitution in the city as a whole.  But again, the undesirables have been swept away and everyone is happy.  Well, the women who now have one more reason not to turn to the police or the community for help are probably not happy…but no one asked them for their opinion.

One of the problems is simply a lack of education.  What if it was more common knowledge that:

*95% of prostituted women have said they want out of the life but can’t leave due to a variety of circumstances from being controlled by a pimp to having no job skills to speak of.

*The majority of women (anywhere from 70 up to 95%) in prostitution have experienced physical abuse.

*Over 90% of prostituted women were sexually abused prior to entering prostitution*

Statistics like these above, and stories to go with the numbers, about on the internet.  The simple fact is that nothing is going to change in our society until we stop shaming women, stop plastering pictures of women arrested for prostitution all over the internet, and start doing the difficult work of arresting the pimps and the johns.

*I found these statistics here but there are many places where similar stats are found.

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Resources to Learn About And Act Against Human Trafficking

Last evening CSF took a night off from our usual meeting to attend a Human Trafficking Awareness Month event.  As a group we visited another local college where we took part in an event called Walk in a Victim’s Shoes.  The goal of this event is to help participants get a bit of a feel for what it is like to be a victim of sex trafficking, specifically to see how hard it is to get out of it once you are in it.

With that in mind, I want to share some resources for any interested in learning about human trafficking and, following that, taking steps to begin to oppose it.

First, as a shameless plug, here are a few  blogs I’ve written over the years on the subject:

Real Men Don’t Buy Girls

Why Does Turning a Camera on Make Abuse Legal?

Pimps are Criminals Who Beat Women…Which is Not Cool

Just Laws to Protect Trafficking Victims and What the Church Can Do

Halloween and Slavery

Second, here are some organizations to follow on Facebook who post frequently about trafficking.  Follow them, read the links they post and peruse their websites to learn more.

Shared Hope International

International Justice Mission

Polaris Project

Not For Sale

Third, think about getting involved in FREE (Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved) if you live around Berks County.  If you live elsewhere, find a local community organization that is working on this issue that you can volunteer with.  FREE meets the third Tuesday of each month from 7-9 PM at a local church in West Reading (Details on our website).  The first portion of time is focused on awareness raising, the rest of the time is focused on planning events.  We can definitely use more people!  The more people involved, the better events we will plan.

I know everyone is busy.  And I realize this is not the issue for everyone.  Even if you believe it is an important issue, it may not be the one you give your time to.  I believe all Christians ought to be working towards justice but none of us can do everything.  So if you pray and think about it and want to get involved, great!  If you feel you want to get involved in something else, that’s great too!  As long as you are doing something.

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  This comes with a Presidential Proclamation as well as dozens of news articles and events to take part in.  Ever since I first learned about the reality of modern-day slavery a few years back, it seems that more and more people are talking about it.  Awareness has been growing, though of course just knowing about it is merely a first step.

Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE) is partnering with Berks Karma Yoga Club for many events.  I am a bit late in writing, so some of the events are already passed.  But you still have time to get involved in three more events:

Saturday, January 26th : Shri Yoga and Wellness Yogathon followed by a Chinese Auction and Potluck Meal
Yogathon Times TBA at
 Shri Yoga and Wellness Center
1015 Penn Avenue, Wyomissing, PA 19610   /   Shri Yoga Website


Wednesday, January 29th : Free Screening of the Movie “Flesh” 
followed by interactive discussion
7:30pm at Penn State – Berks Campus   /   PSU Berks Website
Tulpehocken Road, Reading, PA 19610 – Perkins Student Center Auditorium
Movie Information: Flesh


Friday, January 31
st
: “Renting Lacy” Book Discussion 
7:00pm – 9:00pm at 1817 Liberty Avenue, Reading, PA 19607
Book Information: Renting Lacy

The middle one is most pertinent to me as it is being sponsored by CSF at Penn State Berks.  We will be watching the documentary FLESH which focuses on sex trafficking in the USA.  It is very well-done which makes it eye-opening and at times depressing.  But it is something we ought not close our eyes to, or allow the depression that it exists to overcome us.  For the sake of our communities, our children and our world we need to learn just so we know what to be aware of as well as to take action.

Please consider attending the film discussion (or if you like yoga, the yogathon, or if you like reading, the book discussion).

Culture of Pornography, Sexting and Trafficking (Recent Reads)

There are many times when being a parent terrifies me.  One example is when I think about the sort of world my daughter is going to grow up in.  Articles like this one make me sick, scared and angry: Children and the Culture of Pornography: “Boys will ask you everyday until you say yes.”  

There is a storm coming. I can feel it as I stand on a street corner in south London, thinking about my daughters. Lily and Rose are both 11 years old. One is crazy about dogs, the other loves owls.

They are at that tender age when the hormones have begun to stir, and they could be stomping around the room like furious teenagers one minute but snuggling up for a cuddle the next.

The girls are fast approaching 13, the age that Chevonea Kendall-Bryan was when she leaned out of one of the windows on the fourth floor of a block of flats on this street. A boy she knew was down here on the ground, but this was not Romeo and Juliet. Far from it.

Chevonea had been pressurised into performing a sex act on him, and he had shared a phone clip of her doing so with all his mates. She threatened to jump from the window if he did not delete it. Then she slipped and fell 60 feet to the ground, dying from massive brain injuries.

Her mother says she will now campaign against what is happening to young girls in our society. They are certainly under extreme pressure, having to cope with a world more brutal, more demanding and far more overtly sexual than anything their parents knew.

Read the rest.

On a slightly similar topic, the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event of the year, it is also the biggest event for human trafficking in the United States.  Just yesterday five victims of trafficking were rescued in the French Quarter.  This is something we ought not forget as we watch the big game on Sunday.  Beneath the surface of this most popular of American games is a darkness.

Another Book that Broke My Heart: Girls Like Us by Rachel Loyd

Rachel Loyd’s fantastic book, Girls Like Us, interweaves her story as a survivor of sexual abuse with stories of girls she works with in New York City through her organization GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Services).  What is happening to girls in our world right now is heart-breaking and I am thankful for those like Rachel with the courage to not just speak out, but to share their stories.

Over the last few years I’ve tried to familiarize myself with human trafficking worldwide and its incarnation in the United States as sex trafficking – the abuse of women and girls who are forced to sell their bodies.  I was familiar with the story of GEMS from watching a documentary on their work.  Yet this book still shook me.  At one point Rachel talks about being invited over to the home of a couple from her church in Germany.  She tells how the husband asked the wife for a cup of tea when she went into the kitchen, but the wife forgot to bring it.  Rachel recalls a sense of fear welling up inside her, fear that she will now witness the husband begin to beat his wife in punishment.  Instead, the husband smiles and says he’ll get his own tea.  Rachel says she was shocked because all she know of life was that women are punished when they disobey men.

I can’t imagine seeing the world this way, going through life where it is just accepted that men abuse women.  Unfortunately, this is the life too many women live and think is normal.

Stories like this break my heart.  I am also left wondering what I can possibly do to change much of anything?  I suppose I can give money to GEMS, supporting the work of Rachel and others like her.  But what if I want to do more than just give money?  I can raise my daughter as best I can, hopefully that would count for something.  It is difficult to know what else.

Just knowing what is going on is better than not knowing.  I think of the story Rachel told of a woman testifying against her abuser (i.e., pimp).  This woman was underage which means her pimp was a rapist who sold her to other men to rape.  Yet Rachel tells how all the jury saw was a woman who had chosen this life, even though she was not old enough to choose and no one would choose such a life.  The public need reeducated so that we do not see these girls as “child prostitutes” but as victims of crime and abuse.  Maybe I’ll never be on a jury.  But there are and will be juries where pimps are on trial.  Hopefully more people on juries in the future will have read Rachel’s book and will listen to the victim’s testimony rather then judging her.  Through this, criminals can be put in prison where they belong.

So I highly encourage you to read this book and then to pass it on to others to read.  May we read it and think of ways to bring about change in our culture.

Other books on human trafficking and related topics:

Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It – David Batstone

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today – Kevin Bales

Escape From Slavery: The True Story of my Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America – Francis Bok

Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World – Gary Haugen

Renting Lacy – Linda Smith

Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.

Estimates are that between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are enslaved and sold for sex in the United States every year.  Millions more are sold for sex worldwide.  

Those who sell them make billions of dollars.  The average age for entry into prostitution is twelve years old.  This means that even most women who are prostitutes, who often are looked down upon by society, are in reality survivors of child rape and abuse.

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There are four factors that go into creating this sex industry here in America and worldwide:

1. The Traffickers – the pimps, the ones who sell the girls and who make a ton of money doing so.

2. Vulnerable people – the victims, the growing number of girls at risk to be forced, manipulated or coerced into the sex trade.  

3. The Buyers – the men who buy the women.  

4. A Society that looks the other way.

You could say these are four links in a chain that leads to the bondage of sex slavery.  The question is, which links can we work on breaking to break the chains and set the captives free?  Most of us can probably do little in regards to #1 and #2.  Unless you work in law enforcement or in some social service, these two are outside your influence to a large degree.

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But we can all do something about #3 and #4.  Really, sex trafficking is about simple supply and demand.  There is a demand because men want to buy women and girls to have sex with.  If we make an effort to stop demand, we can begin to loosen the chains.

Last week at Penn State Berks we began asking men on campus to do what they can to stop demand.  We simply asked men to take a stand, to commit to not buying girls.  This was an idea that we borrowed from the Demi and Ashton Foundation.  They did the same thing over a year ago, asking celebrities to have their picture taken holding a sign saying “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.”

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Well, we may not have any Justin Timberlakes or Sean Penns at Penn State Berks, but we have a lot of men who eachhave a circle of influence.  So we asked them to have their picture taken, holding the sign.  These men are part of a movement to end the demand for sex trafficking.  May more men step up and say with a loud voice that it is not cool to buy girls.

We did take it one step further than Demi and Ashton.  As we engaged students throughout the day, we also brought up the connection between sex trafficking and pornography.  Many survivors of sex trafficking have shared that not only were they forced to have sex, they were also forced to make pornography.  Women who used to work in the porn industry often share stories of how they were forced and coerced to do things they had not signed up for.  Every time you click on a porn site, even if it is “free”, you are increasing demand.  You are voting with your computer that you want to see these things, even if more girls and women are abused to create the product

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May we continue to work toward the day when there are no girls being sold because there is no demand.

If you want to see more pics of the men at PSU Berks, or if you want to learn more, follow Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved on Facebook.

Why Does Turning a Camera on Make Abuse Legal?

A few weeks ago woman was arrested in my town when detectives raided a massage parlor.  The woman arrested was charged with prostitution, selling sex.

The story was passed on to my from a friend who knows I volunteer with a local group that seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking, as well as to become active in eliminating human trafficking in our county.  From what I have read on this particular case, there is no evidence of human trafficking.  It is possible though: a case where a woman is in the USA illegally, working in a massage parlor and selling herself, often includes someone higher up forcing her into the whole thing.

What struck me as I read this article was that the difference between prostitution and pornography is whether it is being filmed.  This woman was arrested for accepting money in exchange for sex.  Such an action, prostitution, is illegal.  Yet pornography is women being paid to have sex…on film.

So I wonder (and I do not mean to sound flippant about the situation), if she just turned a camera on, could she claim she is not guilty of prostitution because she is making pornography?

It makes me wonder why pornography is unquestionably legal?  Why is sex for money wrong, until a camera is filming it?

I do not think the solution is simply to legalize prostitution.  This is a debate that is beyond what I am writing here.  But from what I have read, legalizing prostitution does not end the inherent abuse of women and other crimes that surround prostitution.  In other words, an abusive pimp does not become a legitimate businessman because the law is changed.  If you want to read more about this, I would suggest you go here, here and here.

The growth of pornography in our culture is frightening.  It is damaging to those who consume it and it is damaging to those who make it.  What would it take to change the conversation in such a way that we are able to question the legality of it?

 

Porn is Everywhere and it is a Gateway Drug

I absolutely cherish my 15 month old daughter Junia.  She has become my obsession.  As I play with her during the day or pray with her before bedtime I often find myself imagining what kind of person she will be when she is older.

Maybe she’ll be a teacher.  Or perhaps she’ll want to be an engineer.  She loves animals already, maybe she will become a vet.  Or is music going to be her passion?

I never look at her and think: I hope she poses in a porn magazine.

Martin Daubney was once the editor of Loaded, a British magazine that pushed the envelope of soft-core porn (much like Maxim).  Now this man who once defended pics of scantily clad women confesses he has changed his entire worldview You can read a brief excerpt from the article here or you can find the full article here though I do warn you it includes a few racy pictures)

Back then, it never once occurred to me that we were objectifying women or doing any harm. I fiercely denied that Loaded was a ‘gateway’ to harder pornographic magazines.

It was in my own interests to do so. If we were classified as ‘top shelf’, we’d have been put in opaque plastic bags like the pornographic magazines, which would have been commercial suicide.

But such thoughts came home to roost five years later in 2009, when I finally grew up and became a father.

It had such an effect on me and changed my views so forcibly that within a year I’d quit a dream job that, for me, had become a moral nightmare.

When I look back now, I see we were severely pushing the envelope of what was considered decent.

We were normalising soft porn, and in so doing we must have made it more acceptable for young men to dive into the murky waters of harder stuff on the internet. And, for that, I have a haunting sense of regret.

He goes on to speak out powerfully for the need to create ways to shield children from pornography:

Anybody who coerces a woman, or, worse, forces or threatens them to take part in porn should be jailed for many years.

Let’s be clear: you can’t ever ban pornography. Like tax and Tory U-turns, it is painfully unavoidable and lots of consenting adults consume it of their own free will. But we must tighten up the current laws to make it unavailable to children, as it can be so damaging.

It sells boys the debasing view of women as one-dimensional fakes: fake boobs, fake hair, fake nails, fake orgasms and fake hope.

How will these tainted children be able to interact with real women later in life if the first ones they ‘meet’ are on-screen mannequins? By allowing children free access to pornographic images, the next generation of young men are becoming so desensitised, I genuinely fear we’re storing up an emotional time-bomb.

Porn objectifies women, demeans and cheapens them, because it sells a fantasy where men are always in control and get what they want.

But real life isn’t like that. In porn, women cry, ‘yes, yes, yes!’ but in real life, they often say, ‘no’. Not all men have the intelligence or moral fortitude to understand they cannot take what they want.

Today, it’s never been easier to get your hands on porn of the most grotesquely graphic nature, yet absolutely nobody admits responsibility.

And most shocking of all is the total lack of moral accountability displayed by the internet pornographers when it comes to supplying their product to minors.

If, as a magazine editor, I strayed outside of the rules, I’d be taken off sale, fined and lose my job.

Likewise, if a newsagent sells an over-18s magazine to a minor, he can expect to lose his licence and be closed down.

Yet the internet pornographers laugh in the face of this, and the internet service providers (ISPs) wash their hands of the problem.

It’s like saying supplying a drug is ok so long as you don’t manufacture it. There’s no accountability, and it needs to be cleared up, fast. Isn’t it time the ISPs were held to task?

If found guilty of being the highway that gets porn to children, they should face massive fines and risk of closure.

The Mail has been campaigning for new rules forcing all internet users to opt in if they want access to pornography — and I couldn’t be more emphatic in my support. We also need to make sure that these controls apply to smartphones as well as computers.

Looking back, I think magazines like Loaded did give young men a ‘taste’ for soft porn that led to deeper and darker desires. But we operated in a bygone, almost innocent age compared to today, when internet pornography is being pumped out on an industrial scale — straight into the bedrooms of our children.

The internet and its morally redundant pornographers have changed all that. It is time our policy-makers cried ‘enough!’ and banged them to rights.

Two years after my exit, I can finally admit that I was part of the problem. By speaking out, in some tiny way I hope to be part of the solution.

Pornography is a horrible, disgusting evil.  Sadly, it is something that has touched the lives of pretty much every man I know, or at least the ones I’ve talked with it about.  Very few of us make it through our teen years free of porn (I didn’t).  It scares me to think how much more is available now then even when I was a teenager.

It scares me to think that my daughter will be growing up in a world where millions of boys are taught to objectify women.

Porn is not an isolated evil.  It is connected to the growth of sex trafficking in our world.  One thing we talk about often at meetings of Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved is that if men did not buy women, there would be no forced prostitution.  Yet along with that, men do not just wake up one day and decide to buy a woman.  Porn is a factor for it teaches men that women are objects to be used for his enjoyment.  Like any other addiction, eventually a stronger dose is needed and stronger doses are more and more available in the form of women and girls forced into prostitution.’

When gun violence of tremendous proportions happens we (rightly) question the role the availability of guns plays.  Why not question the role of the ubiquity of porn plays in violence against women?

Is Legalized Prostitution Safer?

This is the debate going on in the New York Times “Room for Debate

It is easy to assume that legalizing prostitution, with the regulation that would then go with it, would make it safer for some of the women.  This is the case argued by a few of the participants.

Yet I have difficulty seeing how legalizing a crime all of a sudden makes criminals (pimps) legitimate businessmen?

More then that, if you are the kind of man who would pay a woman to have sex, do you really see her as another human being?  If you are forking over money for sex, she is just a tool for your own enjoyment.  Many prostitutes are abused by the men who buy them and men who abuse women do not become honest consumers just because prostitution is made legal.

Enough of my words, I’ll let the experts speak.

Rachel Loyd says that legalizing prostitution has been shown, in countries that do it, to lead to an increase in human trafficking:

The argument that legalizing prostitution makes it safer for women just hasn’t been borne out in countries implementing full legalization. In fact, legalization has spurred traffickers to recruit children and marginalized women to meet demand. Amsterdam, long touted as the model, recently started recognizing rates of trafficking into the country have increased and is beginning to address the enormous hub of trafficking and exploitation that it’s created.

Max Waltman argues that criminalizing the buying of prostitutes, as Sweden has done, is the way to successfully begin to end human trafficking:

Not to be bought and sold for sex should be a human right. Sweden effectively recognized this in 1999, criminalizing buying sex and decriminalizing being in prostitution. This law has been adopted in full by Norway and Iceland, partly in Korea, Finland, Israel and the United Kingdom. France may enact it.

The Swedish model recognizes that prostitution is an institution of inequality. Most people in prostitution enter as children after being sexually abused. Lacking education and resources to survive, often destitute and homeless, they are easy prey to pimps and johns. Sexism and racism lock them in, as in the United States, where African-American women and girls are overrepresented in prostitution, as are native Canadian women in Canada.

Stella Marr argues that legal brothels are coercive too.

Norma Ramos argues that the oppression inherent in prostitution can never be safe.

Check out all the articles in the debate.