Power and Privilege- Understanding the Role of Men in Perpetuating Racial, Economic and Gender Inequality through Prostitution
This is a summary of a presentation from Valiant Richey, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County in Washington State at the 2018 Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Global Summit.
For the last eight years, Val has worked in the Special Assault Unit, which handles cases involving the sexual abuse of children and adults and the physical abuse of children. Through a combination of data, research, and examples, Val discusses the role of men in perpetrating violence against women and children, particularly through sex buying. He also offers a perspective on the role of mental health and negative socialization in grooming men to engage in harmful behavior and what we can do about it.
Val begins his lecture by analyzing the demographics typically seen in victims and perpetrators of sexual exploitation. Children and adults in prostitution are consistently among the most vulnerable in our community. Val references studies stating that 84% of people in prostitution are female. 52% of people in prostitution are African American. As for minors, 62% of minors in prostitution are unstably housed or homeless. According to a series of studies Val completed based on residents of King County, these 62% of kids have gone on the run an average of nine times, and tend to live in unstable environments. Victims also tend to be traditionally criminalized; 76% of exploited children have spent time in juvenile jail, and those children experience an average of nine episodes in custody.
Val also presents some stats on sex buyers, the perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse. According to his studies, 100% of sex buyers in King County, WA (from 2013-2017) are male. 61% of arrested buyers have an above average education (BA or higher) and 79% of online sex buyers have earned a BA or higher. Arrested sex buyers are usually gainfully employed, working in IT, construction, transportation, etc. 52% of men arrested in King County are white, but when it comes to buying sex from children, 72% are white. Online sex buyers are 85% white. 43% of sex buyers in King County have a yearly income of $120k and higher.
Based on these statistics, what we have is a system where people who are typically poor, female, racial minorities, criminalized, and child welfare-involved, are giving sexual access to people who are male, wealthy, white, non-criminalized, and professional, in exchange for money. This bears a lot of similarities to slavery. When people typically attempt to analogize human trafficking to slavery, they are usually referring to the pimp as the slave owner. Val suggests that we should think about human trafficking as an analogy to slavery vis-a-vis the buyers and the sellers.
Val states that people as a whole have only been addressing the problem of demand insofar as it leads to trafficking. However, he thinks that we should be talking about demand as a system of oppression on its own.
Val also gives some quotes from sex buyers, some of which are quite profound.
“If I’m going to be honest, I knew about the violence that the women experienced. I just wasn’t thinking about it at the time” — A Seattle Sex Buyer
“I know we all talk about how much we care and want to protect the girls, but the truth is what we want is to protect our access to the girls. If we really cared about their safety to the extent some claim, we would take all our hobby money and buy them plane tickets home.” — A Seattle Sex Buyer
“It’s simple really. If you’re paying someone then it can’t really be a free choice. They don’t really want to be with a bunch of dumpy middle-aged guys like us. It’s exploitation pure and simple. I didn’t want to see that before.” — A Seattle Sex Buyer
So, if they know how sexual exploitation negatively affects women, why do men buy sex???
King County has worked with Dr. James Olson to obtain hundreds of psychological evaluations of men who try to buy sex from kids. Based on his work, Dr. Olson has proposed several “clinical profile clusters” in order to help diagnose what is going on with these men who try to buy sex. He charitably labels these issues, “mental health issues.” Some of them include: sex buying as coping, sex buying as a perceived sexual outlet, and sex buying as selfish entitlement. Additionally, he lists several possible triggers for these issues, such as: chronic stress, PTSD, depression, sex addiction, substance abuse, etc.
It would appear that most men who attempt to purchase sex are trying to resolve their more deep-seated issues through sex buying.
Only about 5% of sex buyers have a “deviant” diagnosis, such as pedophilia, or some other clinical diagnosis. The majority of sex buyers may be non-deviant, but “non-deviant” does not mean “healthy.” Non-deviant also does not mean that treatment is unneeded.
What we are seeing in society is a sort of groupthink about how men and women are each supposed to behave. Men are shown as strong and manly, posing with guns and motorcycles for example, whereas women are always displayed sexually, whether it be a swimsuit ad or a commercial for lotion. This combination of mental un-health with our pornified society is a toxic cocktail for sex buyers. People engage in this behavior of sex buying because they are hurting and broken, and they have been trained by society that this is the only way to resolve it.
There are a few points to take away from this lecture. First, we need to understand why it is important to focus on demand. Second, we must understand who is doing the harm. Thirdly, We need to know what is motivating them, and lastly we must engage both men and women. Most importantly however, when doing this kind of work, it is crucial that we make every attempt to not make things worse, and to hold on to our humanity.
1. Bridge Collaborative Clients up to age 24
2. KCPAO data – 2011-2016; mirrors Bridge data
3. Bridge Collaborative Clients up to age 24