Fight Sex Trafficking – Out the Johns

Soi Cowboy, a red-light district in Bangkok

Soi Cowboy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago, I was walking through a bustling red light district in Thailand. Crowded bars and the occasional elephant lined the fluorescent pink streets, and young girls stood in doorways promising sex shows involving a surprising array of implements.

Just then, a florid, middle-aged white guy wearing a teenage Asian girl on his arm walked by, parading down the street like landed gentry strolling in a rose garden.

“What a dick,” I thought. “He would never get away with that in Germany, but in Thailand he thinks he’s hot, like nobody knows he paid for it.”

Then I promptly did nothing. Because what can you do?

Though prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, it is a robust industry that, studies say, produces $4.3 billion per year. Not surprisingly, The UN considers Thailand, with its porous borders, a hotbed of human trafficking.

Prostitution and human trafficking are not necessarily the same thing, but they are definitely kissing cousins. Thank God counter-trafficking groups rescue people and pursue legislation in economically unstable regions where women lack even cursory legal status, but I wonder:

Who is prosecuting the dick with the underage girl on his arm?

Isn’t our “what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas” attitude equally liable for what is now the world’s third largest organized crime?

In 1999 the Swedish government passed a law acknowledging that a country cannot resolve its human trafficking problem without first addressing the demand for prostitution – not supply, demand.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ten years later, the Swedes studied the law’s impact and found street prostitution had dropped by half with no evidence it had just moved indoors or online. In addition, fewer men said they purchased sexual services. Even the police agreed, the law worked and in 2010 Sweden was the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking had not increased.

The success of Swedish law, now called the Nordic Model, lies not so much in penalizing men, but in outing them – removing the invisibility of the behavior. Countries where the customer fears the loss of his anonymity are unappealing to pimps and traffickers.

US law enforcement is exposing Johns too. In January, New York City police arrested 195 people, including johns, and seized 55 vehicles, as part of Operation Losing Proposition.  In May, Manhattan’s D.A. charged 14 men with soliciting prostitution after a crackdown on a sex trafficking ring, where pimps tattooed bar codes on womens’ necks. During the bust one of the men was overheard asking an investigator, “Does my wife have to find out about this?”

People love to call prostitution a victimless crime – a commodity transaction between adults. However, in our culture which flirts regularly with shamelessness, getting caught soliciting sex is still deeply shameful  (think Hugh Grant and George Michael).  It’s easy to rationalize selfish impulses until organizations like show up with data like this:

Prostitutes are 40 times more likely to die than non-prostitutes.

Sixty-eight percent of prostituted women meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture.

Studies show that 75 to 95% of all prostitutes were sexually abused as children.

 Kevin Ryan CEO of Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency serving runaway, homeless and trafficked youth in the Americas, says, “We need a 21st century abolitionist movement to end the trafficking of women and children, and it must include a robust front in the war against demand.”

Related articles


Team Kirk is the #3 Exodus Road Fundraiser!

Did you know we are the #3 Exodus Road fundraising team now? Fifteen of you have joined me in raising nearly $700. Thank you!

We have one week to raise the other half. I blogged here about my commitment to help this non-profit raise $1400 to raid a brothel selling imprisoned children for sex. The Exodus Road is taking two of its top fundraising bloggers back to SE Asia to see the operation firsthand. That could be me!

Here’s why this work matters:

1. There are more human slaves now than at any other time in human history.

2. An estimated 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked over international borders, including into the US, each year. Seventy percent are female and half are children.

3. Human trafficking is the third largest organized crime after guns and drugs.

Ugh, thanks Erin, I really needed more bad news.

Don’t despair! It is easy to help and you don’t have to solve the whole problem, you just have to refuse to do nothing. Your contribution matters to rescued sex slaves like Sarah.

So here is not one, but two options for fighting sexual slavery.

Donate to The Exodus Road coalition and support the people performing covert surveillance and organizing raids on SE Asian brothels.

dream_centerDonate to The LA Dream Center, which operates the United States’ largest transitional care and recovery center for victims of human trafficking. Even though I was at the Dream Center in November, I know little about this program, because security for it is super high. In LA that is expensive.

As Chris Caine, founder of the A21 Campaign says, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Tomorrow, I’m bringing the noise from Sweden – a nation which sex traffickers consider “inhospitable for business.” Solutions abound y’all. Be a part!

How To Free A Sex Slave – Part II

Yesterday I posted about Sarah – a 15-year-old victim of sexual slavery in SE Asia. It was our second highest page-view day Online fundraising for Erin Kirk fundraising for The Exodus Roadever, and we are almost halfway to funding a raid on a brothel with The Exodus Road partners. Thank you!

Twenties are the denomination of the day. Will you take one out of your pocket and help us fight the fact that every 60 seconds a child is sold for sex worldwide?

Which brings me to a question that has been bugging me since we started this.

Q – Why is there a supply of child sex slaves to begin with?

A – Because there is a demand for sex with children.


So, is anybody prosecuting men who solicit prostitution? Why do some people decry that, as unnecessary government intrusion into commodity transaction between consenting adults? But who ensures the consenting part? Who ensures the adult part? Is this really a “victimless crime?” What’s the relationship between prostitution and human trafficking of women and children?

Tomorrow’s post will get a little sticky, especially for those fellas who believe prostitutes happily trade their bodies for money. Do you believe that? Tune in tomorrow.

Sarah’s Rescue…

Several weeks ago, the team of investigators The Exodus Road helps fund, engaged the local government in Cambodia to raid Sarah’s brothel.

It was a collective effort of several NGO’s, two of which work with The Exodus Road, and several government and police agencies. It was a professional operation, spearheaded chiefly by our lead investigator. It took three days and resulted in the discovery of 8 underage victims and the arrests of the brothel owners.

After weeks of waiting, Sarah’s door was kicked in. The note she scribbled to the investigator on a piece of currency which said, “Please rescue me,” finally got answered.

And while it did require more time, money, and manpower than first assumed, the team pursued Sarah’s freedom with tenacity.

After her rescue, Sarah was transferred to a government facility, but The Exodus Road coalition kept lobbying for her. Now, Sarah and other victims rescued from the brothel, are being transferred to an after-care facility in The Exodus Road network. There, they will receive counseling, rehabilitation, education and therapy. They are welcome to stay there while they decide whether or not to return to their home countries….

So yes people, it’s painstaking. It can be slow. It’s expensive and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s working. Sarah by Sarah, it’s working.

Will you help rescue more Sarahs today?