Whatever the numbers, Craig Morgan writes, sex trafficking and prostitution are still tragedies.
Article by Rebel Magazine.
In her eight months on the Phoenix streets, Amira Birger serviced four to five men a day, pulling in between $4,000 and $5,000 a week. The only common trait her johns shared was that they were white men. All of them. Some hadn’t reached legal drinking age. Some were pushing 70. Some would take their wedding rings off and lay them on the nightstand while Birger earned her pimp a daily wage. “We worked down the street from the courthouse, and I swear we had judges and lawyers coming in,” Birger says. “Other times, it was painters or construction workers who had saved up their money. But there was no one profile. It was a huge, wide walk of life.”
Who knows what those men thought about Birger. Was she a trashy, bad girl who liked to have sex? Was she psychologically damaged? Was she combating poverty by the only means available to her? Did they think about her at all? Was she anything more than a commodity? An expedient pathway to a climax they had to reach — at a reasonable cost, of course. Who was Birger, really? She was a 15-year-old girl who had been forced into the sex trafficking trade. A girl imprisoned by a man who made her sleep behind a couch for two weeks without showering or changing clothes — and then made her have sex with men to get out from behind that couch. A girl who was raped by a family member when she was 6 — a traumatic experience she says conditioned her to accept her miserable fate. A girl who wanted nothing more than a loving family to protect her, and to accept her love in return.
“Being raped for three hours was horrific, but the worst part of that time in my life was watching my pimp and his wife read bedtime stories to their kids and tuck them in bed while I sat on the couch waiting for him to take me to my next job,” says Birger, who now counsels victims and the general public while pursuing a degree at Arizona State University. “It was like I didn’t exist. I wasn’t a person to him. I was just a product.”
Nobody knows how many girls and women are sold into sex trafficking in the United States each year. While a number of statistics have been cited, they vary widely in range and either rely on suspect methodology or scant evidence. But whether the number of girls and women trafficked is in the thousands, the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands is not the greater point anyway. Sex trafficking and many forms of prostitution are still tragedies. And they are driven by one simple market force: man’s insatiable desire for sex. “Sex trafficking, prostitution and pornography are not just women’s issues,” says Mending The Soul Ministries co-founder Steven Tracy. “We can dance around the issue, but the bottom line is there are no industries if men don’t create the demand. I’m passionate about highlighting men’s role in this, and it’s high time someone called attention to it.”
Tracy’s organization, co-founded by his wife, Celestia, focuses on education. But Tracy also believes it is incumbent upon men to stand against this injustice and their role in perpetuating it. “As men, we must speak up and speak out,” he says. “As long as we remain silent, we are complicit in the injustice, and that’s true of any injustice.”
Phillip Abraham is an Oregon-based filmmaker who joined forces with two film school colleagues to shoot the upcoming documentary, Volviendo. It’s about the Latin American sex trade and its consistent demand. In tow with a real-life traveling circus, Abraham’s crew made it all the way from the Mexican border town of Juarez to the southern tip of Argentina, taking in such eye-popping sites as a drive-through for prostitutes in the La Merced neighborhood of Mexico City.
The film crew embarked with an entirely different set of goals. But as they made their way from city to city, what started as a project for a feature film morphed into an epiphany — an awakening to a disturbing and depressing reality that led Abraham to confess on film that he watched pornography.
“A big delusion that men create in their heads is our justification that there is this separation between what we watch and what’s actually going on,” he says.
“When I was put, face to face, with some of the results of the high demand for sex, I couldn’t deny any more that I was contributing to a global sex trade.”
Mary Anne Layden is the director of the sexual trauma and psychopathology program at the University of Pennsylvania. In her summary of recent research, Layden found that viewing pornography can result in many negative behaviors and attitudes that can severely damage not only women, but the users. “Pornography is a potent teacher of both beliefs and behaviors, and in fact provides the ideal conditions for learning,” she writes. “It can teach not only specific sexual behaviors, but general attitudes toward women and children, what relationships are like, and the nature of sexuality.”
Aside from oft-cited research that shows pornography dehumanizes women in the eyes of men, Layden also notes research that reveals how pornography negatively affects men. She writes: “Exposure to pornography leads men to rate their female partners as less attractive than they would have had they not been exposed, to be less satisfied with their partners’ attractiveness, sexual performance, and level of affection, and to express a greater desire for sex without emotional involvement.
For males, more pornography use was also associated with greater acceptance of sex outside of marriage and less child-centeredness during marriage. The reduced desire for children is especially pronounced in a reduced desire for female children.
Some of pornography’s messages about relationships, sexuality, and women may be damaging, even if the pornography is not illegal or pathological.”
Kelly Carroll-Hendon founded the Lost Angels Foundation of Hope when a child she knew was abducted by two 40-year-old men who met her through MySpace and then came to her door and took her. Through the efforts of a private investigator, the girl was found in the streets of Tucson, one day before she was to be shipped out to California, then to Mexico on a sex trafficking circuit, where she likely would have been lost forever.
Carroll-Hendon agrees that the socialization, images and messages men receive on a daily basis reinforce the wrong image of what they should be. “Many men construct their identities and understand and affirm their masculinity through their sexuality and sexual experiences,” she says.
“Men continue to be praised for their sexual prowess, which is passed from generation to generation. Men have social expectations and roles that they should take risks, have multiple sexual partners and pay for sex to prove they are ‘real’ men.”
Ultimately, it’s up to men to break that cycle. “Every guy needs this to become a personal issue,” Abraham says. “Change is not going to happen through some statistic-based battle. It’s going to be a personal battle or revelation that is going to change the heart of a guy. My friend and fellow filmmaker, Diego Traverso, said it well at the end of our documentary (when addressing men):
‘It’s not about you any more. It’s not about your flesh and this desire that you have to feed. It’s all about them — those girls. If you believe that you are a man, you won’t feed that demand … She’s not an object. She is equal to you, and she deserves honor and respect.’”
Clearly, the most expedient way to end the market for sex trafficking, prostitution and pornography is for men to stop using them. But that is a simplistic and naïve notion that defies centuries of evidence.
As Layden notes, sex is a powerful motivator for men. Virtually every man wants it, and wants it frequently. That, by itself, is not a problem, says Dr. Robert Weiss, the director of sexual disorders services for Elements Behavioral Health and the founding director of The Sexual Recovery Institute, an outpatient sexual addiction treatment center in Los Angeles.
“When it becomes a problem is when there’s a loss of control,” Weiss explains. “It’s the guy who says I’m not going to that porn shop today or I’m not going to sleep with that prostitute today and risk my wife getting a disease, and then he does it anyway. It’s the guy for whom it’s more important to get the kids to bed early so he can watch porn, rather than spend time with his family.”
Weiss says a large percentage of his patients have a history of abuse, neglect or narcissistic parenting in their past that leads to their behavior — some of which they may not have categorized as such until confronted with analysis. The Sexual Recovery Institute’s website has a self-test men can administer to find out if they have a problem. If they do, Weiss suggests attending any number of 12-step programs for sexual addiction, talking with a counselor, pastor, priest or close friend, or calling his institute, which helps treat sex addiction through a variety of methods.
“We have to confront how their behavior is affecting their life’s priorities,” Weiss says. “We help them understand that they’re not bad people. They’re not immoral. It’s not about religion, but they do have deficits that have to be addressed to meet their needs without using sex and sexual experiences.”
Weiss also believes the intersection of technology and sex has created a new problem for men. “What technology has done is remove the inhibitory moment when you stop and think, ‘Is this really a good idea?’” he explains. “When I was in my 20s and went to buy a porn video or magazine, I had to drive my car to the place under the bridge with the sticky floor, walk up to the counter and confront the cashier. It was embarrassing. But the sheer immediacy and availability to everything on the Internet has given us access without those associated costs or time.”
The web site Ashleymadison.com is an example. The company’s tagline is: “Life is short. Have an affair” — and the message is exactly as it sounds. “I don’t believe we’re engineered for monogamy,” company founder and CEO Noel Biderman says.
“I’ve never seen a study that shows that people who have been married a long time had their sex rate go up. There’s a direct relationship between the length of time you’re with someone and your sexual attraction to them.”
Biderman said he is not promoting affairs; he’s merely capitalizing on a vast market for affairs. His company currently boasts more than 12 million anonymous members.
“You can’t blame the company for people’s behavior. I don’t think that’s logical,” he says.
“You can’t convince anyone to have an affair with a commercial, a radio jingle or a one-on-one conversation. If this company went away tomorrow, I don’t think one single affair would end. People would find another way. My role is to help people have a better affair, or a more perfect arrangement.”
Clearly, not everyone who has an affair or watches porn is a sex addict or even has a problem, Weiss says.
“I don’t think everybody is a sex addict on Ashley Madison, but I do have a question: If monogamy is a social construct, then why marry in the first place?” he asked.
“I have guys telling me, ‘I don’t get enough sex with my wife,’ and I tell them, ‘Well, then go buy a car, or divorce her, or go have an affair, but bring her along to let her know what you’re doing.’ There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having sex or watching porn. It’s not about that. It’s about having a secret life. It’s about not having integrity. It’s about breaking commitments to the people you care about. It’s about how you treat the people in your life.”
Article by Rebel Magazine.