Technology has changed our lives in more ways than I could possibly count. Every aspect of our lives has been affected by innovations in our workplace, recreation, the kitchen, and everywhere else that you can think, and in no area has technology made a larger impression on our lives than in communications. In my lifetime we have gone from monaural record players, big box black-and-white televisions, telephones which shared four parties on one number (wait your turn and let emergency calls break through, and nicely at that, or Ma Bell will kick you off of the party line), and letters written in long hand (a secret code that only older people know), to a dizzying digital kaleidoscope of change and innovation such that I am not remotely qualified to even begin to try to describe it.
When I was young, many of these innovations were described as “labor saving devices”, a boon to housewives seeking a better way to cook a roast and remove grass stains from their children’s clothes (children once played outside) and a matter of suspicion to factory workers not at all sure that the robot tightening bolts and welding seams on the assembly line was in their best long-term interest. A good many production line workers found that their suspicions were more than justified, and that was not the only area in which technology’s contribution to our society was less than positive. Not by a long shot. The newest innovations have changed for the worse one of the oldest problems in the history of humankind; the sexual exploitation of women and children.
“It’s the world’s oldest profession” is the way that some people describe prostitution, and that cliche does seem to lend a sense of inevitability and perhaps even a sideways respectability to the sale of a person’s body for the purpose of another person masturbating into it. Perhaps there is even a class of women, mostly, and maybe a few men, who actually receive a ‘decent’ amount of money for their peculiar service. None of that however is a fair characterization of the problem of sexual exploitation that exists in the United States and most of the rest of the world today. The vast majority of women and children and the few men who are used as toys by others are paid little if anything by their handlers, and are frequently raped, beaten, photographed, and threatened with their own death or the death of a family member, or exposure on the internet if they dare try to escape their bondage or even fail to perform with an acceptable facade of enthusiasm.
How could this be? How could men, and men are the consumers of this ‘product’ 99.9% of the time, possibly believe that sex with children as young as nine years old is right in any way? How on earth can our society spawn this level of aggression against women and children? Where does this impulse come from?
Really? You have to ask that question? The impulse for sexual gratification exists in virtually everyone, to one degree or another, and especially in men. We are wired that way, just as we’re wired to interact in a community and in a thousand other ways common to human beings. The true question should be “What has gone wrong with the 15% of men who have responded to that impulse in a negative and damaging way as regards themselves and the people whom they consume?”
And that is the percentage of American men who act on their fantasies at least once, according to one knowledgable source with whom I spoke, which would be a depressing number if the flip side wasn’t the fact that 85% of American men want nothing to do with the sex trade. Further good news comes in the revelation that no more than 3-5% of men are serial abusers, or ‘hobbyists’ as they call themselves. This puts a much more manageable light on the problem, although I do not mean to imply that management of the problem is anywhere close to being realized. All the same, it’s a far sight better to have to deal with a problem of 3-5% than it is to wrestle with one of 100%.
But let’s look a little more closly at the problem. As previously stated all men, or the vast majority of them at least, have a sexual impulse. Most if not all societies have established norms for sexual behavior, in large part to regulate that impulse and reduce the friction and disruption of society that sexual interactions between men and women can lead to. Sadly, those norms have only rarely been established for the primary benefit and protection of women and girls, but usually that vulnerable segment of society does enjoy some side benefit that would not exist in a society which sanctioned unrestricted competition for the gratification of sexual desires. The law of the jungle is a poor model for social expression of sexuality.
In the United States we have a fairly well developed model for sexual interaction which would protect the vulnerable if that model was more perfectly implemented (to say the least). Most men know that rape is bad. Most men know that sex with children is wrong. Most men know that sex outside of a committed relationship can be dangerous on multiple physical and emotional levels. Many men will experience the urge to take the leap anyway, and although most won’t follow through on that urge, some will. Why? What on earth conditions a man to take such a foolish and wrong action?
One small but important factor in explaining that ‘why’ can be provided by turning on one’s television. American entertainment is saturated with sex. Male and female soldiers killing giant bugs on an alien planet MUST have sex. Turn the channel and you have the Titanic bearing down on its iceberg with the leading actress hanging her bare breasts in front of the cameras for the male lead to paint (and every man watching dream about). Another turn and large lizards or malevolent robots or, worse, industrialists with expensive lawyers, are being challenged with explosions and gunfire and very hot babes. If you choose to watch any, or all, of these entertainments you will be regularly assaulted on 12 minute intervals by actors and actresses oozing sexuality and trying to persuade you to buy their brand of car, their medication, their fast food or their antacids to counter the effects of that previously mentioned product. As I said above, American entertainment is SATURATED with sexuality, and never, or at the very least rarely, is it accompanied by any genuine message of caution or moderation.
Can you hear it already? “What are you, a prude? Quit trying to shove your morals down everyone else’s throats.” My response would be that in the first instance it depends upon how you wish to define “prude”, and in the second I would maintain that it is the entertainment industry that is shoving it’s morals down the throats of others, and not vice versa. I chose not to watch the movie “Titanic” not because I was afraid to look at the actress’ breasts but rather because I was embarrassed for her. She has a father and a mother, perhaps brothers and sisters, a husband (several, really) and children. How do you suppose they would feel if they were viewing the movie while a guy with his tongue hanging out was seated next to them? How would you feel if she was your wife, mother, child or sister?
No, I don’t believe that the word ‘prude’ would apply to me in this instance, unless it was used as another word for ‘respect’. In my opinion that word is one used by people with an agenda to beat other people into silence while they continue their work of making billions of dollars by selling images of unrestrained sexuality and in the process desensitizing their audience to the damage that unregulated, unleashed sexual indulgence does to the weakest in our society. If images do not affect behavior, then billions are spend on Madison Avenue each year for no reason at all.
But enough about the problem. Let us now turn to one solution. A bold group of men, some of whom I know, have decided to use the tools of the sexual exploiters to turn the tables on them. The trick goes like this: an advert for sexual favors is placed where predators go to find their victims. When the phone number listed in the ad is called the caller does not get ‘Jennifer’ but instead is greeted by ‘George’ (nobody’s real name, as far as I know), who informs the caller that his number is now known. A conversation is then attempted to explain to the man the reality of what he is doing.
Most of the time a conversation does not ensue, and on those occasions when a conversation does ensue it is frequently a bitter and nasty thing: evil hates being exposed. Sometimes, however, a man on the other end of the call will engage and state that he had no idea of what the reality of sexual exploitation actually entailed, and sometimes one comes away with the hope that one man, one consumer, will turn away from buying sex.
How effective is this? That is a valid question. And the answer is that in the western city where this program was piloted researchers have noted that the market for sex peddled on-line and over the phones has plummeted, and currently nine other cities around the country are beginning the experiment too. This is only a drop in the bucket, I know. But each time a consumer of sex is scared or shamed or – better – educated into discontinuing that practice the victims have one less customer/oppressor and, perhaps, a family has a husband and perhaps a father who will turn away from an activity which will someday destroy it, and perhaps that husband and/or father will learn that he needs help, and will seek it.
The problem of sexual exploitation of women and children in America is a big one, but it is not beyond solution. Most men are part of the solution, and the small percent who are active oppressors need not be left anonymous and untroubled. By exposing sexual consumers to the light, healing at last might begin.