5 reasons men solicit prostitutes — and why I’m trying to help them

johnsLast Saturday, I taught my first “john school” class.

Created in 2007 by the Columbus City Attorney’s office, this unique program educates men who have been arrested for soliciting a prostitute.

The class is taught by a former judge, licensed counselors and even survivors of sex trafficking. Hundreds of first-time offenders have gone through the Columbus class — including a police officer.

The goal of these types of programs is to “decrease the demand for prostitution, and hence, reduce the amount of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that occurs,” according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s John Schools Report. As of 2013, 50 cities in the United States were operating some form of a john school — including four in Ohio.

I got my first opportunity to teach at Columbus’ John School class last weekend as the new Demand Reduction Coordinator for She Has A Name. That means I educated the men on the connection between prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking.

But the most fascinating part of the program came at the end, when I asked 41 men to volunteer why they decided to solicit a prostitute. Here are the top 5 reasons some of the men gave:

  1. Stress
  2. Loneliness
  3. Depression
  4. Pornography
  5. Lack of intimacy

One of the main characters in my novel, The Black Lens, illustrates reason No. 4 — pornography. Aidan Taylor has been trying to help a teenage prostitute, but his past addiction to porn comes back to haunt him as he starts researching sex trafficking and sites like Backpage.

Several readers have asked me why I included Aidan’s character, especially his porn addiction. The main reason is because good characters have flaws. They’re not perfect. They’re real. Broken. And raw.

But I also wanted to shed light on the demand side of trafficking. Human trafficking is big business. Forced labor in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year — with $99 billion of that coming directly from commercial sexual exploitation, according to the International Labour Organization.

And like any business, trafficking relies on the law of supply and demand. While many factors fuel the demand, pornography is a key part of the problem. During interviews with 854 women in prostitution in nine countries, 49 percent said pornography was made of them while they were in prostitution, and 47 percent were upset by tricks’ attempts to make them do what the tricks had previously seen in pornography.

My heart breaks when I read those statistics, because it shows just how complex and deep this problem runs in society. But we must strive for a solution. While the anti-trafficking community has done an excellent job rescuing victims and supporting survivors, we have to do a better job helping the men who fuel the demand in the first place.

Without that, there will always be a market for modern slavery.

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