A heavy set middle aged man stood outside a dingy brothel in the small village of Svay Pak, Cambodia negotiating with traffickers to buy sex with a child. He had traveled across the globe to a town whose only claim to fame is selling children for sex. Exodus Cry Founder, Benjamin Nolot, happened to be filming in that very location for a documentary on sex trafficking when he was confronted with this horrific scene.
Instinctively he ran toward the man who instantly began to flee. As Nolot chased him, the pedophile jumped onto a passing moped. Benjamin grabbed the man by the collar and stared into his eyes with a sense of rage. He did the only thing he could think of in that moment and yelled at the man to never come back to Svay Pak again. The man sped off disappearing into the dusty distance.
In that shocking and sobering moment Benjamin came face to face with a harsh reality: the only reason girls in that village were being sold for sex was because men were willing to buy them.
And trafficking for sexual exploitation isn’t just something happening in developing countries. Just this month, fifty-one children were among the one hundred and twenty three victims found in a European trafficking crackdown.
You see, the truth is that sexual exploitation has no borders or boundaries, as long as men continue to demand commercial sex.
That personal epiphany was the message that Benjamin made sure to trumpet loud and clear when asked to address the issue of sex trafficking at the United Nations recently. In light of this revelation that demand is fueling sex trafficking, Nolot boldly challenged world leaders to adopt anti-trafficking strategies that focus on sex buyers.
You see, men are at the heart of the problem of sex trafficking, and men are the key to eradicating it. However, whenever prostitution and sex trafficking are talked about, we most often hear a conversation centered on the woman or child who is being sold for sex.
We hear debates about her “choices,” we see movies about her experiences, we read stories about her history, and for a lucky few we hear about their escape from this industry of sexual exploitation.
As important as those things are, what is often left out of the conversation is the role of the silent, powerful force that enables the phenomenon of prostitution to exist in the first place: men who buy sex.
Inside every brothel room, every car where prostitution sex takes place, and on every massage parlour table where a sex act is paid for, there is a man—a “john,” “punter,” “trick,” “curb crawler”—whatever you call him. The one thing that is consistent is that he is a male. Men who buy sex are the force that fuels a booming global sex industry.
If prostitution were visualized as a tree, the roots of that tree would be male demand. The perpetuation of prostitution, and the entire sex industry, comes down to basic economics.
Prostitution operates on supply and demand just like any other business. If there was no demand there would be no supply. What that means is that if all men stopped buying sex simultaneously, the entire sex industry would immediately implode and we would see the greatest exodus of people from oppression that we have ever witnessed in the history of the world.
This concept has been played out in real time and space. Countries that adopt policies to prevent male demand by criminalizing the act of buying sex have seen dramatic reductions in prostitution and trafficking.1
In fact, a recent study by researchers from the London School of Economics who did a quantitative empirical analysis of over one hundred and fifty different countries, found that nations whose policies enable and encourage men to buy sex have a greater incidence of sex trafficking than countries whose policies are aimed at curbing male demand.2
The policy of criminalizing the demand for commercial sex along with pimping, trafficking, and brothel keeping is called the “Nordic Model” or the “Abolition Model.”
During his speech at the UN, Benjamin called on nations to adopt this successful policy approach to mitigating the scourge of sex trafficking. Along those lines, he called for the support of an important federal bill, HR 466 “The Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act.” Its aim is to pressure nations around the world to make serious efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex by ensuring that sex buyers can’t purchase the bodies of women and children with impunity.
It is time that we all realize that at its core prostitution isn’t just a “women’s issue” as it is often framed and talked about. Prostitution is a men’s issue, and it needs to be addressed as such.
We need to move the conversation on from only talking about women’s choices (or lack thereof), and we need to start talking about men’s choices to buy or not to buy sex. Because, at the end of the day, it is those choices that perpetuate the entire business of organized sexual abuse. The keys to abolition are in the hands of men, and until we all understand that, and shift our focus to ending demand, the sex industry will continue to thrive.