Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Real Men Don't Buy Sex"

Last Thursday night I left the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood dazed and distraught. I’d just seen Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Sally Jo Holmes of Not For Sale. The speakers included a mother whose daughter went missing after testifying against her pimp, a young woman who works with street kids through the Salvation Army, a woman involved in pushing through new Washington State legislation to criminalize the purchase of sex, and a retired Seattle vice cop still working to get prostituted teens out of the clutches of pimps.

A few facts: 
  • 2.8 million children live on the streets of this country 
  • One million are forced to work in the sex industry every year 
  • 1/3 are lured into prostitution in the U.S. within 48 hours of leaving home
  • 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused in America
  • Child porn is a multi-billion dollar industry
  • 100,000 to 300,000 children in America are victims of sex trafficking
I struggle with the word “prostitute,” the word used for a money-for-sex transaction between consenting adults. But that’s not what the sex trade looks like. It’s not Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I don’t want to call these kids prostitutes, but I understand that instead of avoiding the word, it’s necessary to change perceptions. As a nation, we must accept that prostitution rarely exists without coercion, that prostitution is an act of violence, that prostitution is rape and often pedophilia.

Sex + Money examines the causes and consequences of human trafficking and modern day slavery, not in some far away country easily ignored, but right here under our noses, in our streets, in our schools, and in our malls. My husband and I walked from the theater talking of little girls as young as 11 and 12, mall rats and runaways, being wooed, raped, threatened and beaten into submission.  And we talked of solutions.

One of the most serious challenges facing rescue efforts is where to send the kids that have been freed from sexual slavery. Across the United States there are fewer than 100 beds for victims of sex trafficking. Most kids who end up being victimized are runaways, so sending them back to the homes or foster care facilities they escaped from makes no sense at all.

“We need a facility like Streetlight here in Seattle,” I said. “A safe haven for rescued kids.”

“What we need are loving families. Fathers who are involved, who care, who love their kids unconditionally,” my husband said.

“Fathers who don’t buy sex,” I said.

My mind wandered in silence. How many kids would be on the street if each and every one of them had a parent, teacher or mentor to turn to when that handsome guy approaches at Westlake Center with flattery and promises? How many kids would be lured into sexual slavery if they had someone to talk to, someone to trust, someone who would not judge and condemn them when they tried to escape?


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