Peter Qualliotine is co-founder of the Seattle-based Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS). He has been actively working to end commercial exploitation for over 25 years. In 1995, he created one of the first education programs in the country for buyers of commercial sex. Presently, with OPS, he runs “Stopping Sexual Exploitation: a Program for Men,” a ten-week transformative justice program for court and self-referred sex buyers based on principles of social justice and personal transformation. The following video and summary come from a presentation at a briefing at the U.S. Capitol hosted by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and World Without Exploitation in 2017.
Peter grew up in a domestic violence household, and it was clear to him that his father’s abuse became his mother’s problem, but it did not originate with her. Rather, it was his father’s problem. Peter’s father was not equipped with the social and emotional learning to deal with his frustration, anxiety and disappointment with life.
He felt entitled to feel this way, and his family paid the price.
Women, children, and others pay the price for some men’s lack of ability to own and deal with their problems in healthy ways.
The unaddressed problems men have tend to be amplified and projected onto others, in forms such as sexual assault, violence, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, stalking, and commercial sexual exploitation.
For centuries, young people, especially young women have been targeted for sexual exploitation because they are vulnerable. Young people are often quick to trust, they have few resources, and they have little life experience. Adolescents in particular are developmentally vulnerable to exploitation. Thus, they are easy to manipulate and groom by adult traffickers. Pimps target youth, and sex buyers selfishly seek out young victims for exploitation.
Peter teaches a 10 week course for men who have been arrested for buying sex, and one of the participants told him, “The reason that I buy sex is because the only thing I am more afraid of than intimacy, is rejection.”
Men like this pay money to buy sex so they will not have to face the fear of intimacy and rejection, but who really pays the price? Prostituted people do. While in the life of prostitution, they experience extreme harm and abuse. They are physically and sexually assaulted by their pimps and by their buyers. They are kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered at rates that are higher than for any other group. Often they turn to alcohol and other drugs to cope with levels of trauma that no human being should have to endure. Often, they attempt suicide, in desperate attempts of escape, and they have PTSD at rates that are twice the amount of military veterans.
As if this were not enough of a price to pay, people in prostitution are then stigmatized, judged, blamed, and held responsible for their own victimization, sometimes by their own family and friends.
The silencing nature of this particular form of gender-based violence makes it difficult to see the price being paid by society’s most vulnerable people.
People being exploited in this way are often used as society’s scapegoats. They are targeted for abuse and then blamed and punished for the abuse they experience. They are seen as “bad girls who chose the life,” “fallen women who lead men astray,” etc.
Peter points out that, except for the most obvious and overt instances of sex trafficking, the issue of choice always seems to be raised when discussing prostitution, and sexual exploitation. The issue of choice is a red herring, however, because even if you manage your own abuse and exploitation, it’s still abuse and exploitation. As the years go by, and as the trauma compounds, it becomes harder and harder to get out of the life of regularly being sexually exploited.
The buyers of commercial sex must be called to account for the decisions that they are making and for the harms of prostitution. In giving their money in exchange for sex, sex buyers are deliberately attempting to avoid hearing about the harm they are causing.
It is merely the nature of the transaction.
Sex buyers pay for the fantasy of the situation, not the reality of a woman’s lived experience.
It’s time to start caring about the girls, by addressing the issue of commercial sexual exploitation, as well as the selfishness of the minority of men who feel entitled to exploit.
We need to end demand.