by Keith Lokkesmoe
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune
Sex trafficking is none other than the business of selling and buying women, girls and boys to be sexually used and abused by men. It is not just a problem occurring overseas or in inner cities. It is happening in every city and every suburb in the Twin Cities and many towns across Minnesota. This menace has the potential to rob our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, friends, and grandchildren of not only their innocence, but their future.
When people think of sex trafficking, they usually think of the victims — the survivors. But sex trafficking would not occur if men were not purchasing sex. In order to stop the exploitation of trafficking, we must reduce the demand. What is behind this demand? It starts with what people see. Scantily clad women are used to sell products on television. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is sold to men by women selling their air-brushed bodies as symbols of value. Sitcoms and movies joke about bachelor parties with “hookers” as being normal. College football team members sexually use and abuse a woman and believe their actions are justified.
One step deeper in driving demand lies the Commercial Sex Industry. This conglomeration of pornography sites, adult entertainment businesses, escort services, and strip clubs is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Men and boys who’ve seen scantily clad women in Sports Illustrated or nudity in a mainstream movie now want something more. So, they begin searching their laptops and smartphones for porn sites that will give them the graphic stuff — movies, pictures, chat sites — which inflame their desire and twist their minds into thinking that women like this stuff.
Finally, for many, simply watching is not enough anymore. They need an actual encounter with a woman. So, they venture into strip clubs, sex clubs, and ultimately search for “escort” websites. Hundreds of ads appear each week on these sites, and each new ad has men calling within three minutes of posting. The vast majority of women being prostituted today have been sexually abused as a child; 99.9% of them are completely controlled and abused by their pimps. They are not free women working in dignity. They are daily assaulted by men thinking that they have every right to use and abuse these women as they see fit.
If we want to stop sex trafficking, we need to reduce the frequency at which men pick up the phone or click on their computer to order sex. What to do? Here are six areas we can focus on:
1. Expose pornography as a public health issue. In April 2016, Utah became the first state to declare pornography as a public health issue. All states should follow suit. Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has researched the violent nature of today’s pornography and concludes that the use of pornography leads to more acceptance of violence against women, creating more sexually violent fantasies to get aroused, engaging in more sexual harassment behaviors, and a greater likelihood to use physical coercion to have sex.
2. Expose strip clubs as harbors of abuse and forerunners of prostitution. We have many first-hand reports of the daily abuse occurring in these establishments.
3. Protect young people from internet and mall traffickers.
Predators have developed sophisticated strategies for convincing young girls to meet with them, such as posing as a teenage boy. They also obtain nude pictures from teens and use these to blackmail and exploit. Sex traffickers also routinely work at shopping malls, coffee shops — anywhere that teenage girls frequent. We need to educate teens on these methods.
4. Change the laws to make hard core pornography illegal. There are national obscenity laws against pornography. There have been some challenges to enforcement of obscenity laws based on First Amendment concerns. However, prosecutors today, in light of the dire harm being caused by pornography and its link to trafficking, would do well to take up this issue with renewed vigor.
5. Increase the penalties for persons who buy or sell people. Minnesota is a national leader in terms of passing and funding Safe Harbor legislation, which has been expanded upon to now provide services for women or men being prostituted until age 24. We need to ensure that new legislation increases the penalties for both buyers and traffickers to felony level status.
6. Confront the mindset that women are sex objects and men are helpless to control themselves. Rape culture asks the woman first what she did to encourage the man. It assumes that the women’s answer to sexual advances is yes — unless there is clear and convincing evidence otherwise. It absolves men of responsibility and casts them as unable to control their desires. We can do better than this.
This is a dark and complex problem. But it is not unsolvable. Only if the American public remains ignorant, will the traffickers stay in business. Once the majority of Americans are made aware of this menace, that it stalks their very own daughters and sons and brothers and sisters and grandchildren, we can all rise up and begin to stop this plague in our midst. Please join us in this battle.
Trafficking Justice will have its Freedom Weekend March 17-19, which will provide specific information on this problem and what people can do about it. The weekend is a collection of seven different events at multiple locations in the Twin Cities. There will be international, national, and local speakers who are working at the front lines of the battle against sex trafficking today. All events are free.
Go to www.traffickingjustice.com/Freedom-Weekend.html for all of the details.
Keith Lokkesmoe, of Lakeville, is the executive director of Trafficking Justice — a group in the Minneapolis area comprised of churches, faith-based organizations, and individuals who have come together to fight for freedom from “modern-day slavery” known as human trafficking. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.