Male Bashing Won’t Fix Sex Trafficking
“It was near impossible to find enough men who didn’t buy sex,” the presenter said at the start. I found myself fidgeting in my chair. Really? Where the fuck where you looking pal?
This afternoon I found myself in a room full of women (okay there was one other man) talking about the difference between men who buy sex and those don’t. The presenter, a smug man who seemed to enjoy all this talk of sex and men behaving badly, was one of nine interviewers for the study “Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex.” The study compared interviews with 100 pairs of men matched for their background, one of whom buys sex and the other who does not. The study results were given exclusively to Newsweek last summer and the resulting article, “The John Next Door,” created quite a stir.
I had been invited to the talk to:
“Please join us for coffee and conversation about the demand for trafficking in Massachusetts and elsewhere. If we are to eliminate demand for illegal commercial sex—and thus protect those women, children and some men who are trafficked to meet it—we must understand the attitudes, backgrounds, and behaviors that prevent some men but allow others to purchase another’s body.”
As the researcher explained his team’s methodology my stomach turned. At the same time the women around the table seemed to be leaning in. The researchers had put an ad in the local Metro paper asking for males willing to talk about their sexual practices. They screened over 600 calls. The interviews were conducted in South Station where each interviewee was supposed to look for the guy with the red folder who would conduct the questionnaire.
The researcher regaled us with anecdotes about being threatened, stories of men asking him if he wanted to meet in the restroom to have sex, and talked about the extent to which “men are conditioned at this point to want to talk about their sexual exploits.
If you put an ad in the Metro and pay guys $90 to come to South Station to talk about their sexual habits, yeah, you are going to attract 100% weirdos whether they admit to having bought sex or not was my thought.
Then I tried to regroup. To think about why I was there. I, too, abhor sex trafficking. I, too, understand that the average age a prostitute begins that life is 13. So what if I am in a room full of women talking about how to cure the problem by getting a better understanding of what drives male demand for the purchase of sex? Sure this makes sense, I tried to tell myself.
He finally got to the results of this pivotal study. Men who buy sex are more likely to have committed other crimes, they are more likely to commit rape, they need to engage in increasingly sadistic acts to satisfy their urges. Both men who buy sex and those who don’t understand that prostitutes are coerced into the life and underage children are involved. The key difference, according to the study, between those who buy sex and those who don’t is how these men first learned about sex. If you had sex education you are less likely to buy sex than if you learned about sex through pornography.
That’s it? That’s the big reveal? I thought to myself. Well, there goes that theory, since every teenage boy on the face of the planet learns about sex on the Internet at this point, whether or not they have a sex education class.
At that point I got up and left, partially because I had an appointment to get to. But partially because I was thoroughly disgusted with the do-good male bashing I had heard based on the flimsiest of science.
Nothing I heard had any bearing on the underlying causes of sex trafficking, on the use of porn and prostitution, and on the epidemic of misunderstanding surrounding sexuality in this country. What I saw was women talking about male sexuality based on interviews with a couple hundred men of questionable motivation sitting in a train station talking to earnest interviewers.
How about going to strip clubs and talking to guys (“Inside a Strip Club”)? Or interviewing high school and college boys about their perceptions? Or trying to get underneath the reasons for the male bashing that will never solve the problem.
The truth is that from what I have been able to gather from talking to men who do go to strip clubs and buy sex is that they are, at bottom, lonely. Maybe they are sick and sadistic. But just maybe there is something more complex than that.
photo: bixentro / flickr