Thursday, November 15, 2012

Game plan: How do we help men to stop buying sex?

Continuing with the idea that sex trafficking will not end until men stop buying sex, I want to start looking at solutions. (Read Bob's first post on this issue here: Down to the roots: what will stop men from buying sex?) 

How do we help men stop buying sex?

Remember to look at the issue with a big scope
When a problem is both global (present in many countries) and pervasive (widespread within those countries), change will come only when strategies address the problem from dozens of different angles and are worked out over decades. There won't be one solution that can bring widespread change in a short period of time.

For example, the 2010 US Census reports approximately 125 million adult men in the United States, and this study shows that between 15-20% of these (19-25 million) have purchased sex at least once. That's just in the United States, one of almost 250 nations.

So, facing staggering numbers and mindful of what it takes to change even one person's heart and behavior, where do we start? Here are three of what needs to be a long list of strategies.

Create and enforce laws that curb activity
I don’t cheat on my taxes, mostly as a matter of conscience, but also because I also have an healthy fear of the IRS - I’ve seen up close and personal what can happen when their full wrath is unleashed on an offender.  No thanks, don’t want to go there.

Well-crafted and enforced laws can do that, having enough "teeth" to make people think twice about doing something harmful. Of course, laws will only have that curbing effect on a portion of offenders, and won't really address heart issues; but in the case of helping men to stop buying sex, good laws can, and need to be, part of the solution.  

This is especially true for men who are still in the beginning stages of the addiction. For some of these, the fear of paying heavy fines, being put in jail and being publicly exposed (being put on sex offender registries, having records that would impact their ability to get jobs, being reported in newspapers, etc.) is strong enough that laws will help them stop

For the current Massachusetts law, see this link.
"John schools"
Among those who buy sex and are caught, some can be helped through education to not be a repeat offender. One option that has been emerging over the last couple of decades is “John school”.  First-time offenders facing prosecution may be given the option of paying a $1000 fine - a sort of tuition to the program - and attending a one-day seminar put on by formerly trafficked women who tell their stories.  Research has shown these schools, of which there are currently 48 in the country, have been significantly effective.  To read more, here's a link for an article written in 2008 on the first John school, started in San Fransisco; to see some of the concerns and dialogue about this approach, here's a link for an article on a John school potentially opening in Denver.

Teach your children well
Laws and John schools are examples of smaller-but-tangible parts of the solution. There are longer-term and more widespread strategies, too, including one that I'll mention here and talk about more in my next blog: We need to teach our children differently than we have been.  

In order to shape the next generation of men so they don't see buying sex as an attractive option, we need to be teaching them as children now. Where? Ideally, we'll utilize contexts already designed for relationship, mentoring, modeling and shaping morality and mindsets. To me, the epicenter of this is the relationship between father and son; but there are many other important ones: family relationships in general; churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions; schools and colleges; and boy scout troops. Sometimes sports teams and clubs in the community - even college fraternities (!) - take on morality-shaping, cause-supporting roles.

Education can go a long way - not just in curbing harmful behavior, but in inspiring young men to fight for justice and be part of the solution.

To read up on more research on men who buy sex, here’s an excellent resource:

Bob Atherton is Amirah's Executive Director.

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