TIME politics

In Defense of Johns

Jim Norton Christopher Lovenguth

I'm not ashamed to pay for sex—and other men shouldn't be either

As a man who has spent an embarrassing amount of money on prostitutes and various other sexual encounters, I was excited when I heard about a “National Day of Johns,” because I thought I was being honored.

I envisioned myself being carted down New York City’s Fifth Avenue on the back of a flatbed truck, waving to cheering fans as confetti rained down on me and my disappointed parents hid behind a mailbox. A silly (yet understandable) mistake on my part, as the National Day of Johns was a celebration of the arrests of hundreds of men in a series of sex stings in 15 states. The fact that I’ve never been arrested in one of these stings should convince even the most ardent of atheists that miracles are indeed possible.

I suppose you could say I am the consummate john. I’m loyal, I’m dedicated, and I will always come back — even as it seems as though efforts to shame johns are on a national upswing throughout the country.

I cannot even fathom a guess as to how much money — let alone time — I’ve spent on paid sex in the past 25 years. Although I can tell you that when Charlie Sheen confessed he’d spent $50,000 in one year, I nodded my head and saw it as an achievable goal. Because I’ve never actually tallied the dollar amount of my sex addiction, my therapist tells me I should — her logic being that a concrete cost would make it more definitive and its consequences more tangible.

But really, perhaps the most shameful thing I can admit is this: I’m not really ashamed. And neither should any of these other (unmarried) johns who have been arrested.

If these men are anything like me, they might simply feel more comfortable with prostitutes. I never pick them up to be abusive. I always feel extraordinarily loving and close to them. When I first began soliciting sex for money, it never occurred to me that some of them are possibly forced into prostitution or have abusive pimps. I must have known it deep down on an intellectual level but hadn’t witnessed anything to confirm it.

Until I did.

The only experience I’ve had where an element of violence was present was driving on 48th Street in New York and talking to a girl through my passenger window. (A big part of my addiction is the ritualistic aspect, and for some reason I only liked to pick up prostitutes who talked to me through the passenger window.) As we were speaking, a van full of girls stopped, and a guy I assume was her pimp bounced her across the hood of my car and threw her in the van.

This is why I’m a firm believer that prostitution should be legalized and pimps should be thrown down an elevator shaft.

Law-enforcement stings designed to shame men who pay for sex are nothing more than the state blowing its own morality horn. Being a comedian who is single allows me a luxury most johns don’t have, which is the freedom to discuss the topic openly. And not from a case-study point of view but from the honest point of view of someone who has spent the equivalent of a Harvard Law School education on purchasing sex.

By keeping prostitution illegal because we find it morally objectionable, we allow (or, more accurately, you allow) sex workers to constantly be put into dangerous situations. Studies have shown that rapes and STDs dropped drastically from 2003 to 2009 in Rhode Island after the state accidentally legalized it. The American Journal of Epidemiology showed that the homicide rate for prostitutes is 50 times that for those in the next most dangerous job for a woman, working in a liquor store. You don’t need a master’s in sociology to understand it would be much safer for sex workers if they were permitted to work in places that provided adequate security. Legalizing prostitution would also alleviate the fear a sex worker may have about reporting a john’s abusive behavior because of the risk of arrest.

The illegal aspect of prostitution has never deterred me, nor would legalizing it cause me to engage in it more.

The decision people make to have sex for a living would undoubtedly confuse and repulse a large part of the population. But in a free society, people must be allowed to make choices for themselves that are incomprehensible to others. By keeping prostitution illegal and demonizing all of its parties, we (you) are empowering pimps and human traffickers and anyone else who wants to victimize sex workers because they feel helpless under the law.

Give sex workers rights. Give johns a break.

Norton is a comedian, New York Times best-selling author and host of The Jim Norton Show on Vice.com

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 12: Sex Slavery and Objectification of Women

We are desperately in need of a cultural shift in how we think of women.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, on my drive home I was listening to Public Radio when I came across a story that just boiled my blood and sunk my heart. It was the story of mostly young and vulnerable women who were kidnapped from Tenancingo, Mexico and forced into sex slavery right here in the United States. It is the single largest source of sex slaves in America according to this report.

The latest studies estimate that there are more than 20.9 million people – mostly girls and women – who are forced into sex slavery worldwide. And, sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world today. These statistics can just sound like numbers until we pause and think of the individuals who suffer through this evil. We may not know them by face or name, but they do have faces and they do have names and they really do matter.

The problem of sex trafficking can seem beyond our control, but there are some wonderful organizations out there fighting the good fight everyday that we can support in whatever ways we can to help end this evil. And, as citizens we can demand that our government do more domestically and internationally to further the cause of human freedom. As a nation, abolishment of slavery was and is an important milestone in our history. We now have to go the extra mile to end slavery in all of its illegal forms starting here at home.

I would like to argue that there is something else we can do too – something that requires moral courage, introspection, and ultimately a cultural shift. We can start a movement against the sexual objectification of women. If we are really honest, the shocking evil of sex trafficking is in, some ways, only an extension and the ugliest manifestation of treating women like commodities. From selling cars and clothes to beer and chips and everything in between, we have become quite comfortable with the sexual objectification of women in society. And, somehow as long as a woman consents and is over the random age of 18 or 21, it becomes completely legal to sexually and commercially exploit her.

Sadly, many women – young girls in particular – have internalized a lot of this objectification around them on highway billboards, television and movie screens, and Internet. For it nowadays to be common and culturally acceptable for a young girl to walk around in the mall, for example, with something like “juicy” written across her backside or across her chest is an indication of the serious problem that lies before us.

Needless to say, women are not objects – they are human beings who have souls and intellects and are endowed with God-given dignity that no man or corporation should ever be able to take away from them. Starting with the way we raise our boys and our girls, we are desperately in need of a cultural shift – locally and globally – on how we think of women.

A young man once came to the Prophet Muhammad asking permission to commit fornication with women. The Prophet drew the young man closer to himself, put his hand on his shoulders, and asked, “Would you like this for your sister or your mother or your daughter?” The man immediately replied that he would hate it. The Prophet said, “then, how can I permit you to do this with someone else’s sister, mother, or daughter?”

Ramadan is the month in which we learn to discipline our sexual appetites through the spiritual discipline of fasting. The idea is not sacrifice our appetites completely at the altar of monasticism, but rather to bring our inclinations into conformity with a higher and more ethical way. If people were not slaves to their sexual appetites there would be no industry for sex slavery. And, if people learned to control their sexual glances, there would be far less objectification of women. As with everything else that is good, it all begins with the self.

TIME Crime

FBI Recovers 168 Children From Sex-Trafficking Rings Across the U.S.

FBI Director James Comey participates in a news conference on child sex trafficking, at FBI headquarters, June 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
FBI Director James Comey participates in a news conference on child sex trafficking, at FBI headquarters, June 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The weeklong operation took place in more than 100 cities

The FBI has rescued 168 children and arrested 281 pimps in a weeklong child-prostitution sting operation carried out across the U.S., in partnership with local law-enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Operation Cross Country VIII took place in 106 cities across 54 FBI divisions, the bureau announced Monday. The various cross-country operations have to date rescued around 3,600 children and led to 1,450 convictions, more than a dozen of which have come with life sentences in prison. The FBI operation has also recovered more than $3.1 million in assets.

“Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day,” said John Ryan, the CEO and president of NCMEC, in a statement.

Initial targets have typically included casinos, truck stops and websites advertising escort and dating services, as identified by local law enforcement. The FBI uses the information gathered from these busts to expand their search and to partner with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices to serve those running child-prostitution rings with federal charges.

“Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims,” Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement. “They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again. This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare so they can start reclaiming their childhood.”

TIME Cambodia

Trafficking Activist Somaly Mam Is Accused of Faking Her Life Story

Cambodian activist Somaly Mam (R) accepts a "Woman of the Year" award with a child she rescued from sexual slavery, during the 2006 Glamour Magazine "Women of the Year" Honors award show in New York City October 30, 2006. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Following a Newsweek article, and a legal probe that found several alleged inconsistencies in her oft-cited biography, Mam has quit the NGO she helped found

Somaly Mam, the world-renowned campaigner against sex trafficking, and a TIME 100 alumni from 2009, resigned Wednesday from the organization she started, after a probe found apparent inconsistencies in the shocking personal history she has frequently cited when raising funds for her cause.

The Somaly Mam Foundation’s executive director Gina Reiss-Wilchins published a statement on the organization’s website, expressing “heartfelt disappointment” over Mam’s decision, which came after a two-month investigation by a legal firm the foundation hired to investigate the allegations of falsification.

The firm looked at various claims made by Mam, including her being sold into sexual slavery at a young age.

Mam’s resignation comes a week after a May 21 Newsweek article, which questioned several of the central assertions of her autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence, such as her being an orphan and having been abducted.

“We remain grateful to Somaly’s work over the past two decades and for helping to build a foundation that has served thousands of women and girls,” stated Reiss-Wilchins. “We look forward to moving past these events and focusing all of our energies on this vital work.”

TIME sex trafficking

Inside the Scarily Lucrative Business Model of Human Trafficking

Igor Bilic—Flickr Vision

New report estimates almost $100 billion annual profits in sex trafficking alone.

Though many people believe slavery to be a thing from the distant past or award-winning movies, new figures out from the International Labor Organization (ILO) suggest that human trafficking—essentially, coercing people to work under unjust, often inhumane, circumstances—is a growth business.

Estimates of just how much the human trafficking business is worth have grown massively since the last ILO report on forced labor almost a decade ago. Back in 2005, the business was estimated at about $44 billion annually. Now, it’s more like $150 billion. This likely reflects a growing awareness of the numbers of people who have been caught up in some sort of bonded labor, rather than actual growth in the business.

Annual-profits-of-forced-labour-per-victim-and-sector

ILO’s study suggests that what often pushes people into bonded labor is not a constant level of grinding poverty, but a sudden financial setback. Poor households are much less able to deal with an unexpected misfortune—a lost job, a medical emergency, a hike in the rent or the prices of goods and services.

This setback, which sometimes makes it hard for at-risk populations to even afford food, pushes individuals into borrowing, which sets them up for usurious interest on credit, or pushes them into accepting any work at all to feed their families.

Contrary to a widespread misconception, only a small portion of the trade comprises sex trafficking, though most of trafficking money does come from the sex trade.

“Globally, two-thirds of the profits from forced labour were generated by commercial sexual exploitation,” says the report, “amounting to an estimated $99 billion [U.S. dollars] per year.” There’s also a lot of profit from bonded labor among those who gather food, in either agriculture or fishing industries. Laborers are worth approximately $9 billion a year in profits.

The homefront isn’t a safe haven either. The ILO estimates that “private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labour save about $8 billion [U.S. dollars] annually by not paying or underpaying their workers.”

Since we’re talking about a very informal and mostly illegal trade, numbers are extremely hard to come by. These are not the kind of businesses that create annual reports. The ILO uses a slightly different formula for working out how much each sector is gaining from forced labor. For the agriculture industry, it estimated the difference between the value added by the worker and the wages paid to the workers in that sector, using 2012 Global Database information.

(Under modern parameters, people can be paid while engaged in forced labor. For example, domestic workers are considered to be in forced labor if they’re paid 40% or less of what they should be paid.)

Annual-profits-of-forced-labour

More than half the money from forced labor is made in the Asia Pacific region, says the ILO. India and China have lots of bonded workers, some of who they export to other parts of the world. Much of this trafficking, although not all, is for the sex industry. Some anti-slavery advocates are highly critical of tourists who pay for prostitutes in foreign countries.

“We have a culture that normalizes the sex industry so that it is seen as a benign, ‘victimless’ crime,” says Carol Smolenski of ECPAT-USA, an organization that fights child prostitution. “Even though the life histories of so many of women show them turning to this industry out of desperation, a lack of options or through violence and intimidation by pimps and traffickers.”

But while the big money comes from the Asia Pacific region, more profit is made from each bonded laborer who ends up in wealthier nations.

In developed countries and the EU, coerced workers can be worth almost $35,000 a year to their exploiters. In the Middle East, it’s more like $15,000. Most of this money is made on the back of undereducated or unskilled workers in industries and sectors where demand for labor fluctuates. Apart from the sex industry, agriculture and domestic work, these workers toil in construction, manufacturing and mining.

Annual-profits-of-forced-labour-pervictim-and-region

In general, the likeliest victims of forced labor are poor, unskilled workers who get stuck in a bad situation in a place where the rule of law is a little iffy. But not always. Sometimes highly skilled individuals can be caught up too, particularly if they’re on foreign soil.

In this week’s Time magazine, Shandra Woworuntu, who worked in finance in Indonesia, tells the story of how she was snapped up from the airport and traded from brothel to brothel in a sex trafficking ring in 2001 for several months and finally escaped by jumping from a second story window. What lawless part of the world did this horrific event take place in? Brooklyn, New York.

TIME Nigeria

New Boko Haram Video Appears to Show Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Footage released by Boko Haram purportedly shows some of the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April as its leader says he'll free them in a prisoner exchange

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 4:47 p.m. ET

A new video released by the extremist group Boko Haram claims to show for the first time more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last month, amid growing outrage at the kidnapping and the government’s response.

The authenticity of the video, first published by AFP on Monday, could not immediately be confirmed. It depicts the girls wearing hijab and praying. In the video, a leader of the group boasts that the girls, who came from both Christian and Muslim families, have converted to Islam. “We have indeed liberated them,” the militant leader Abubakar Shekau says in the video. “These girls have become Muslims, they are Muslims.”

Shekau says he will only release the schoolgirls if the Nigerian government frees Boko Haram prisoners. “It is now four years or five years that you have arrested our brethren, they are still in your prison and you are doing many things to them, and now you are talking about these girls?” he said. “We will never release them until you release our brethren.”

A top Nigerian official quickly dismissed the notion that the government would release Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the safe return of the schoolgirls, AFP reports. “The issue in question is not about Boko Haram… giving conditions,” Interior Minister Abba Moro said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the United States has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video, and that U.S. intelligence agencies are scouring the video for clues.

“Our intelligence experts are combing over every detail of it for clues that might help in the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls,” Carney said.

A team of almost 30 American officials is already in the country assisting in the investigation; it includes four Department of State advisers, 17 Department of Defense advisers and four people from the FBI.

In an earlier video, Shekau had threatened to force the girls into marriage, saying he would “sell them in the market, by Allah.”

Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their school in Chibok almost a month ago, and an international social media campaign is demanding their release. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized for his failure to prevent the attack and for his response. The United States announced last week that it was sending a team to aid in search and rescue of the girls.

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller in Washington

TIME Prostitution

There Is Now an App for Prostitution

The creator of Peppr, available in Germany where prostitution is legal and where the sex industry is worth about $21 billion a year, thinks letting prospective clients and prostitutes create and be matched by digital profiles will "revolutionize the image of sex work"

The new app, Peppr, is similar to a dating site, but it’s for connecting prostitutes to clients.

In 2002, Germany legalized prostitution, and the industry there has expanded dramatically since then. Some estimates put the number of prostitutes in Germany at about 400,000, many of whom are foreign nationals from economically stressed parts of Europe like Bulgaria and Romania. According to the Telegraph, the country’s sex industry is worth $21 billion a year, and several 12-story megabrothels have opened. Two years after prostitution became legal, the industry was thought to be worth $8.3 billion.

And now a startup based out of Berlin has launched an app called Peppr, which bills itself as the “first mobile Web app for booking erotic entertainment.” Prospective clients simply list their location, acknowledge they are at least 18 years old, select a gender of choice, and they’re presented with photos and profiles of potential men or women offering to have sex for a fee. Prostitutes set up their profiles for free and clients pay €5 to €10 for booking. Clients can browse the prostitutes based on services they want, as well as the body type they desire.

In an interview with the German news site the Local, co-founder Pia Poppenreiter said the idea came to her when she was walking through the red-light district at night. “I was walking down Oranienburger Straße — I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth — it was chilly, and I saw the poor girls on the streets, and I thought, why isn’t there an app? It’s not efficient to wait outside,” she told the Local. Poppenreiter thinks the app will “revolutionize the image of sex work” and make it appear less “shabby.”

Poppenreiter says her company talks to the prospective prostitutes over the phone to try to determine if they are signing up voluntarily, or by force, but that’s notoriously tough to verify. Sex trafficking and coerced prostitution have become a growing concern for European nations like Germany, in which prostitution is legal and where the business has grown so much that the prices are falling even as demand rises for additional workers.

The official number of trafficking victims in Europe is about 23,600, according to a 2013 E.U. report, but because sex trafficking is so difficult to trace, the European Commission estimates that the official number doesn’t come close to documenting what they believe are hundreds of thousands of trafficked men, women and children in Europe, most of whom come from East European nations recently admitted to the union. The E.U. study found that human trafficking increased by 18% between 2008 and 2010 while the number of convictions for the crime fell by 13%. About 62% of all those trafficked are exploited for sexual purposes, according to European Commission data, and 68% of sex-trafficking victims were women, 17% men, 12% girls and 3% boys.

MORE: Germany: The Cut-Rate Prostitution Capital of Europe

TIME States

Hawaii Debates Law Allowing Cops to Have Sex with Prostitutes

Hawaii Prostitution Police
A pedestrian walks in front of a Honolulu Police Department station in Honolulu's tourist area of Waikiki on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 Oskar Garcia—AP

Officers are urging lawmakers to pass a bill that aims to curb prostitution, as long as they keep in the exemption that allows cops to have sex with prostitutes during investigations. Critics say it only further victimizes sex workers

Hawaii lawmakers are debating a fiercely-criticized law that currently permits undercover police to have sex with prostitutes during investigations.

A new bill that clamps down on prostitution originally eliminated the sex exemption for officers on duty. But after law enforcement officials testified in favor of the exemption, the bill was amended to restore it, the Associated Press reports. The revised bill passed the state House and is set to go before a state Senate committee on Friday.

Police say the provision helps them catch sex workers in the act, but human trafficking experts who are critical of the law point out that the provision is unnecessary and only hurts sex workers—who are often forced into their positions—even more. Some say that women who have left their careers as prostitutes behind report being forced to give sexual favors to policemen who threaten them with arrest.

Critics say it seems impossible for every officer using this exemption to judge every prostitute’s situation—whether she has been forced into that lifestyle, her real age and more—before having intercourse with her. And advocates say the risk police will take advantage of prostitutes outweighs any benefits.

Even without such exemptions in place, police in other states have been accused of abusing sex workers. A former officer is facing charges in Philadelphia for allegedly raping two prostitutes and forcing them to do drugs at gunpoint. A cop in West Sacramento, Calif., was recently found guilty of raping prostitutes. And last year a Massachusetts officer pleaded guilty to threatening prostitutes with arrest unless they had sex with him.

Law enforcement officials say the exemption doesn’t lead to inappropriate behavior.

“All allegations of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action taken,” Michelle Yu, Honolulu police spokeswoman, told the AP.

Laws governing disclosure of police misconduct in Hawaii block the public from seeing whether an officer has ever faced disciplinary action for having sex with a prostitute.

During testimony, law enforcement officials would not reveal how often they use the exemption, claiming that doing so would alert pimps and prostitutes to how far policeman are and are not allowed to go, and compromise future investigations.

“As it is, we are already subject to ‘cop checking’ where prostitution subjects do certain acts or attempt to do certain acts to determine whether the person is an undercover officer,” Major Jerry Inouye of the Honolulu Police Department told local Hawaiian news station KITV.

Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee chairman who amended the proposal to restore the exemption, said that civilians cannot understand the measures necessary in undercover police work. “It’s a really murky area,” Rhoads said, according to the AP. “I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it’s necessary to not have it in the statute, this is one area where I did defer to them and say, ‘I hope you’re not having sex with prostitutes.'”

Hawaii’s law appears to be unique. Roger Young, who worked sex crimes for the FBI in Las Vegas for over 20 years, told the AP he didn’t know of “any state or federal law that allows any law enforcement officer undercover to penetrate or do what this law is allowing.”

[AP]

TIME Crime

Prostitution Isn’t as Profitable As You Think

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Getty Images

A comprehensive study commissioned by the Justice Department looks at the economics of selling sex

Though prostitution has the potential to be lucrative, most sex workers rarely reap the benefits of their revenue, according to a new report on the economics of sex work.

The study commissioned by the Justice Department looked at the underground commercial sex economy in eight major U.S. cities—Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kasas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Researchers conducted 250 interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers and child pornographers—many of whom were serving time—about their business dealings in those areas. They found that the illicit sex economy had an estimated worth of $39.9 to $290 million in 2007 in each city. Atlanta was the most profitable city, and Denver was the least.

Pimps and traffickers raked in between $5,000 and $32,833 per week employing an average of five sex workers at a time (with a high rate of turnover). They charged johns an average of $150 per hour—a price point that was consistent across the country—though prices could vary depending on the age, race and drug use of the sex worker. Half of the pimps interviewed advertised online, and one fourth of those interviewed used sites like Backpage.

But pimps and prostitutes’ expenses are high, and they saved little from their earnings. Pimps can spend thousands on hotel rooms and shopping sprees for their employees, according to the report. “Prostitution and pimping — in many cases that’s not particularly profitable,” Amy Farrell, a researcher not involved in the study at Northeastern University told the New York Times. “Some parts are more marketable than others.”

And it turns out that family has a greater influence on the decision to go into sex work then previously thought. The study found that pimps and sex workers were often encouraged by family members to get into the business. Some grew up around sex work, normalizing the practice, and decided to take it on themselves when they grew up. In other instances, prostitutes would ask family members for protection and eventually ask them to act as pimps. About 30 percent of the subjects interviewed said they had family members involved in the industry.

For many, sex work isn’t all that lucrative, but it seems to offer a way out from even more dire circumstances. “When I was little, I was on welfare, I lived in the projects,” one pimp who was interviewed said. “Dope fiends, pimps and prostitutes. Gang bangers, helicopter over your roof. That’s no way to live. Seeing glitz and glamour, I always wanted that. Coming up like that, having square jobs was never appealing.”

One illicit sex industry that defied economic calculus was the child pornography industry. According to the study, kiddie porn is often traded for free. Offenders therefore often considered it a “victimless crime.”

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