By Alizah Salario
Monday, April 18, 2011
A legal shift in looking at the men who pay for sex is a new focus for anti-sex trafficking activists. The strategy has led to changes in state legislation and educational programs at a growing number of "john schools."
A 2002 study published by the Center for Impact Research in Chicago found that of 222 women involved in various facets of Chicago's prostitution industry, the vast majority were victims of some form of violence. Almost 80 percent of women on the streets reported being threatened with a weapon at least one time and half of the women working in escort services had been raped.
"Women don't wake up when they're 7 years old and go to school and tell the teacher, 'I want to be a commercial sex worker,'" said Hatcher. "By and large, most women don't want that to be their lifestyle."
The reality is that most women enter prostitution as minors. Many flee chaotic families and find themselves "cared for" by a pimp. Girls enter prostitution at an average age of 12 and pimps and johns often "count on [them] being broken," said Hatcher. Nationwide, 100,000 children who leave their homes each year are sexually exploited, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
"I'm an anomaly. I had a degree. I had a supportive family. It was easier for me to stabilize when I finished our program," said Hatcher. "The norm is these women enter as children. This is all they know."
Hatcher insisted that education combined with legal consequences is the key to combating sex trafficking.
In a survey of 113 Chicago men conducted by Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, 87 percent said that seeing their photo or name appear in a local paper would serve as a deterrent from buying sex, while only 41 percent said that being required to attend a johns course would do the same.
Focusing on the demand side of sex trafficking illustrates why it isn't just a legal or economic problem, but a human rights issue as well. For Hatcher, one of the most important aspects of john schools is that they teach men how all women deserve to be treated.
"They are all supposed to be treated like human beings," she said.
Alizah Salario is a freelance journalist living in New York. Her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, Ms. Magazine, at the Poetry Foundation and elsewhere. She blogs at www.alizahsalario.com
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The funding for Women's eNews' coverage of sex trafficking has been made possible through the generosity of the Embrey Family Foundation and The Body Shop.
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