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Sexual Abuse & Trafficking

2011 November 5

Study Compares Men Who
Buy
Sex and Those Who Don’t

In July, as previously reported, I had the opportunity to present excerpts from our documentary-in-progress, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, at the annual meeting of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. While there, I had the opportunity to meet Melissa Farley, the founder of Prostitution Research & Education, and attended a discussion of PRE’s newly-released study, Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex, which you can download here.
            I’ve been surprised – though maybe I shouldn’t be – that I haven’t seen any reporting on this study in the press, even in Boston, where the interviews were conducted. (Former Ambassador Swanee Hunt, whose Hunt Alternatives Fund supported the survey, did publish a powerful Boston Globe op-ed piece supporting Massachusetts legislation that would prosecute traffickers, hold sex-buyers accountable, and support survivors.)
            The PRE researchers, some of whom participated in the PsySR panel, did extensive, structured interviews with 201 Boston men, 101 of whom were self-reported “johns,” and 100 of whom were not. The following are just a few of the study’s significant findings:

  • Sex buyers engaged in significantly more criminal activity than non-buyers, including drug abuse, assaults, and other offenses that were not necessarily against women;
  • Sex buyers acknowledge committing more sexually coercive acts against women, including non-prostitutes;
  • Sex buyers showed less empathy toward women, were more likely to deny prostitution’s negative effects on women, and reported being more drawn to sadomasochistic sex over time. 

“Women and girls selling their bodies almost never do so freely. Poverty, abuse, and a chaotic upbringing create a context where they can’t even begin to make a rational choice. The average age at which a female in the United States enters prostitution is thirteen. If a girl is sold to ten men a night, six nights a week, she’s statutorily raped 15,000 times by her 18th birthday, when she suddenly ‘consents.’ A buyer may say he has never purchased a child, buy how would he know?”
                    — Swanee Hunt, Buyers of Sex Must be Held Accountable

New Research Documents Trafficking
of Native American Women

Prostitution Research & Education has also just released a new study, Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, co-authored with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition.

“Since Native women are at exceptionally high risk for poverty, homelessness, and sexual violence, which are elements in the trafficking of women, and because the needs of Native women are generally not being met, and because prostituted women are at extremely high risk for violence and emotional trauma, our goal was to assess the life circumstances of Native women in prostitution in Minnesota, a group of women not previously studied in research such as this.”
                        — from the Executive Summary of Garden of Truth

The 105 women interviewed were involved in prostitution, and roughly half of them met what the study calls “a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking,” meaning that they were under the third-party control of pimps or traffickers. Among other findings:

  • 79% had been sexually abused as children, by an average of 4 perpetrators;
  • 84% had been physically assaulted while in prostitution, and 72% suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result;
  • 52% had PTSD at the time of the interviews – a rate, the authors point out, that is comparable to the range among combat veterans.

Some Other Related Resources

In a Vietnamese Village, Stitching the Wounds of Human Trafficking: Julie Cohn’s New York Times column tells the story of a Vietnamese Hmong village in which several young women who were rescued from traffickers were scorned and disowned by their families, and forced to live outside the town. A village women, Vang Thi Mai, took them into her home and into the textile cooperative she had founded – giving them stability, an income, a role in the community, and ultimately acceptance.

Katya’s Story: Trafficked to the UK, Sent Home to Torture: “British immigration officials knew that Katya, a vulnerable 18-year-old from Moldova, had been trafficked and forced into prostitution, but ruled that she would face no real danger if she was sent back.” Amelia Gentleman’s story in the Guardian (UK), recounts the horrendous consequences of that decision, as well as the legal fight that ended with the UK government awarding her substantial damages – although her traffickers have not been brought to justice. 

Ending Rape in War: Laura Carlson covers a Quebec conference at which more than a hundred women from around the world met to confront this issue. “The plan isn’t to change the world. Just the most violent and despicable parts, parts that many of them – too many – have experienced firsthand. They carry with them experiences they seek to erase from memory.”

Regaining Trafficking Victim’s Trust, One Interview at a Time: NBC News producer Sandra Lilly reports on an Atlanta, Georgia, organization called Tapestri, which helps victims of trafficking. NOTE: this article mentions the availability of special T-Visas, which may enable foreign victims of trafficking to stay in the U.S. As we reported in late June (near the bottom of the post), this is a vastly underused resource. Last year, 5,000 of these special visas were available, but fewer than 500 were issued.

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