by Haley Ashworth
The majority of information on sex trafficking and the sex industry focuses on the women who are being exploited. It is easy to find a typical profile for a woman caught in the sex industry, but what about the men that drive the industry—the consumers of women, the johns? It is rare to see someone approaching the issue from that angle, and so I set out to see what research had been done. How old are these men? Are they married? Poor? Wealthy? Do they know the pain they are causing? Do they care?
After searching through articles, research publications, blog posts, and fact sheets, I believe I have found the answers. It is puzzling and saddening, but, for the most part, the men who have purchased women and children for their sexual use look almost indistinguishable from the rest of society, including the church. They are not dirty men in trench coats. They are not desperate drug addicts. They are not societal outcasts who have little chance of a real relationship. The viewers of pornography, the buyers of prostitutes, the clients in strip clubs are, for the most part, just your average joe—or “john”, as it were.
Melissa Farley, a psychologist and founder of Prostitution Research & Education also noticed the lack of information on the johns and performed a research project to gather more data. Through interviews with two groups of men (buyers of sex and non-buyers), she gained and shared much insight into the differences between the two groups. Farley reports that “sex buyers in the study used significantly more pornography than non-buyers,” demonstrating once again the link between sex trafficking and pornography (learn more about that here and here). The buyers of sex also admitted to being more violent with women, and according to the study were “nearly eight times as likely as non-buyers to say they would rape a woman if they could get away with it.” This severe attitude of violence points to a cyclical pattern. Similar to the way a drug addict eventually needs harder narcotics to achieve a high, viewers of pornography gradually need more violent and “hardcore” images in order to be satisfied, eventually leading to a tolerance of violence towards women, even to the point where they desire to act it out. Prostituted women are the perfect outlet for this because the men are in complete control.
While there are differences in the way buyers and non-buyers think and behave in private, there are only subtle (if any) differences in the way they look and act in public. The group of sex buyers in the study was made up of average men who liked the feeling of power of being with a prostituted woman, but looked disturbingly similar to the non-buyers. If these men are perfectly functioning members of our society, free of mental disorders or sadist tendencies, then on what can we blame the actions of these perpetrators of human trafficking? In our attempts to understand the phenomenon of bought sex, we’d like to take refuge in the comforting delusion that it is a problem with “those people.” But what happens when “those people” turn out to be your neighbor, your soccer coach, your best friend’s dad, or even your pastor? The truth is it is not other people–it is us.
“But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” (James 1:14-16). It is a problem of sin, and that is a problem experienced by every single one of us.
That’s not to say that there aren’t outside influences. Our culture has become sexualized to the point of blindness. Its open tolerance of anything in the name of “sexual freedom” blinds us to the fact that the very acts which we think of as liberating are, in fact, performed by someone in bondage. Sex has become so cheapened that buying it, in the form of a dance at a strip club, a video on your computer, or a hotel room with a prostituted women, is accepted as normal.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. A pervasive form of slavery was abolished once on our soil, and it can be done again. All of us can find freedom from sin, whether it is sexual in nature or not. Romans 6:19 states “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Each one of us can make an impact on our sexualized culture today by committing to a pursuit of purity in our own lives. Sex trafficking is happening here at home, and the solution needs to start in the same place. By actively pursuing a PURE lifestyle, we can start to transform our own hearts to model God’s, and to seek justice as He calls us to do.
We can pray for a change in our hearts, culture, and government; that we may understand the connections between all forms of sex trafficking and that we may have strength to resist the temptations of the world in order to pursue purity. Then, we must resolve not to be slaves to sin, but to righteousness, and to “never tire of doing what is good” (2 Thess. 3:13). Finally, we have to engage in the active pursuit of justice in the world around us and encourage others to do the same (find a list of ways you can get involved here). Above all, we must always have hope and stand firm in our faith. The more we run towards a pure and just life, the more we will experience growth in our walk with the Lord.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Haley Ashworth is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University and is currently serving as a 2012 pureJUSTICE intern.