13 Activist Projects for Small Groups to Eradicate Sex Trafficking in Your Own Home Town
On hearing the realities of prostitution and sex trafficking, socially conscious people want to know, “Yes, but what can we do?” And more specifically, “What can we do in our own home town?”
The short answer is that you or your group can make immense strides toward ending sex trafficking in your home town. And you can do so without wearing yourself out, and by using the talents you enjoy using most.
The following is a list of 13 diverse abolition projects that tap into a wide variety of individual talents and interests. These projects are ‘doable’ by small groups at low or no cost, and can be easily tailored to your time frame. Furthermore, they are just examples. Even if these projects don’t exactly fit your needs, they should at least spark your imagination as to the many more diverse tasks that can and need to be done.
The projects variously target four pillars of modern day slavery and are grouped under those headings. The four pillars are, the sex trafficking infrastructure, law enforcement, the sex trafficking demand, and the general public.
But no matter which project you choose, this first project we outline should be beginning foundation for any of the others.
NOTE: Prostitution, sex trafficking, or sexual slavery? We believe it’s extremely rare for any human being to become a prostitute without being driven by extreme duress or coercion. We also know that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14-years of age. As such, we believe that most, if not all prostitution is a form of sex trafficking and sex slavery, and in this text we use all the terms interchangeably. But even if you disagree on that point, prostitution, sex trafficking, and sex slavery are so thoroughly intertwined that the one can’t be eliminated without also seriously tackling the others.
Is it Really Happening in My Town?
There aren’t many solid statistics on sex trafficking, per se. But the few facts we do have make it virtually certain that, yes, sex trafficking is really happening in your town. Consider that one out of five men in the U.S. has purchased sex, and that the average john does so an average of once a month. Consider also that the general preference of johns is ‘the younger the better’. And that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 -14 years of age. Enticing a minor into prostitution, whether by force or not, is an obvious segment of sex trafficking.
So from just these facts alone it’s pretty clear that sex trafficking is happening everywhere. But there’s more. It’s extremely rare for adult or minor victims of sex trafficking to overcome their fears and to report or seek help. It’s well known that police throughout the country are more likely to arrest the victims than to protect them. And adding insult to injury, police rarely arrest the pimps and johns, although that is just beginning to change.
Add to this the huge amount of money that can be made by the traffickers, – over a thousand dollars a night per prostitute, – with virtually no risk of being caught.
The reason you don’t see sex trafficking, or hear or read about it in the papers is because the victims are bound in silence and fear, and very few people beyond the pimps and johns are even looking out for them. But when you do look, and look knowledgeably, as you’ll likely find in the course of your work, it’s very easy to find.
If you’re not convinced, look here. Go to backpage.com on your internet select your location, click on the adult section, escorts, and find a daily updated supply of women and girls for sale in your town.
Teen prostitutes watching the weeds grow in Oklahoma City
Does it Matter?
The suffering and violation of the immediate victims of sex trafficking is, by itself, more than sufficient imperative for doing all that can be done to stop it. But to help you in convincing those who have difficulty thinking beyond their own set of family and friends, have them consider this…
Every single girl in all our communities is, at the very least, a secondary victim of sex trafficking with serious consequences for her life. By the time any girl goes through middle school and high school, she has heard herself or other girls pelted by the words ‘ho’, ‘slut’, ‘bitch’, ‘skank’, and more, and she’s heard it thousands of times.
And every single girl, one way or the other, has had to repeatedly alter and constrain her behavior in trying to avoid the daily shelling attacks of those labels. There is no equivalently venemous arsenal of words to berate male sexual behaviors. These words are aimed specifically at females, and serve to control, shame, subordinate, humiliate, and constrict all female sexuality. This battery of words and the universal harm they do to girls derives their crushing intensity from the very real existence of a female class of prostitutes and trafficking victims in every town.
Project #1: First Things First
Project #1 Research and Compile a List of Resources within Your Community
Even though your community may not have specific groups of police or public health units dedicated to ending sex trafficking, it’s almost certain that, by now, no matter where you live, there are at least key individuals, or small groups of individuals, here and there in your community who have taken a special interest in the subject, and who have developed some degree of expertise.
These key individuals may be health workers, parents, church members, individual law enforcement officers, peace and justice advocates, service club members, violence against women advocates, youth workers, juvenile hall workers, middle and high school teachers, shelter personnel, politicians, psychologists, etc.
Pick up the phone! Start calling around and you will find them! Make a list! Not only will this list be invaluable for whatever project you may want to do, you’ll learn a tremendous amount just in the short conversations you have with these people.
In addition, this list, especially if you keep it updated, will be invaluable to your community. A simple local list of resources does a lot more than help in individual cases. It’s a powerful first step in prevention. It broadcasts to the community that there are real people right there in their own home town who are watching and paying attention.
Consider at least getting these people in touch with each other on a group email list. Consider also pubishing it on a community resource card that you can hand out to people no matter what other project you decide to undertake. Naturally you need to get permission from the individuals, unless they are public officials.
You can title the card, Community Resources for Helping and Educating about Sex Trafficking. You don’t have to publish people’s last names. You can write something as simple as Jane R. at the rape crisis center, or Martha at the Soroptimists. (Public officials can always be listed by their full name and contact information.)
Consider handing the card out along with whatever project you do; at family planning clinics, to teachers, juvenile hall, police, health workers, emergency rooms, hotel staff, taxi drivers, etc.
Projects 2, 3, & 4: Dismantling the Sex Trafficking Infrastructure
The sex trafficking infrastructure is the industry’s achilles’ heal. Unlike most other organized crime, sex trafficking requires a huge customer base, a customer base that, for the most part, is enmeshed in all facets of legitimate society.
Consequently, sex trafficking operations are forced to reach out and make themselves visible and accessible throughout society in order to regularly interface with their customers. As such, for sex trafficking to thrive it depends on multiple segments of the community being willing to be complicitous and look the other way.
Winning over and dismantling that infrastructure knocks out a critical pillar of modern day slavery.
To see an outstanding example of a full fledged campaign aimed at one aspect of the sex slavery infrastructure click here: Truckers Against Trafficking! http://truckersagainsttrafficking.org/
Project #2: Meet With and Win Over the Hotel/Motel/Spa/Tourism Infrastructure
If you like to get out and about, and meet and greet, in all the fun places, this is great project for you. And it’s critically important, too. Hotels, motels, tourist and convention centers, taxi drivers, spas and massage parlors, clubs and bars, all are a key part of the sex trafficking infrastructure, especially so in a county like ours where tourism is such a big part of the economy. In our county, Sonoma County, where our resident population is only half a million people, there are over 7 million tourists who come here every year, many of whom are drawn by alcohol exalted in wines. Sex trafficking is a no brainer blend in the mix.
Sometimes traffickers will rent a hotel room, or a suite of rooms, and direct customers to that location. Others deliver the prostitutes directly to the location of the customers who themselves have rented a room. No matter. Whichever mode of operation, a very large number of legitimate staff and personnel from taxi drivers to hotel staff to hosts in our spas and wine tasting rooms are needed to pretend not to notice and to look the other way. Thousands of these every day people are in the position to either aid and abet sex trafficking, or, to be frontline troops in the fight to stop it.
Meeting with them, informing them, and winning them over is an essential task for ending sex trafficking.
To be sure, these infrastructure personnel can be anywhere on the moral spectrum from unknowing particpants, to those who simply look the other way, to the other end of the spectrum where individuals or whole businesses are getting a cut of the take and are actively part of the sex trafficking operation. Most of these people, however, are not hardened criminals, and with a positive approach, and a little of coaxing and education from you, they can actually be transformed to serve as front line eyes in the struggle to stop this slavery of women and girls.
*** So put together a five to ten minute conversational talk that you or a couple of you can have with your local hotel managers or owners. Make the appointments. Focus on disseminating specific tips for identifying sex trafficking operations, and a couple of phone numbers for where to report. Have some written material handouts with local resources and national reporting numbers that you can leave with them. Infographics are particularly useful for posting in employee staff rooms.
Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A number of anti-slavery groups throughout the world have already established best practices and created excellent materials that you can adapt and use in your own project to win over your local sex trafficking infrastructure.
Ask managers and staff to pass the information on to their co-workers and to post your materials in staff rooms. But keep in mind that the most important aspect of your meeting is the meeting itself. The face-to-face contact is powerful. It makes the good people among them more conscious, and it puts the less well intentioned on notice that they’re being watched and judged.
For relevant resources, start here, ECPAT, http://ecpatusa.org/ , (718) 935-9192
Project #3: Meet With, Win Over, and Partner with Housing Managers, Residents, and Latino Community Advocates
On first take this project may sound like little more than a subtle variation of the previous project. But, in fact, it requires far different skills and sensitivities.
Sex trafficking operations that are based in minority communities and that seek to reach customers primarily from within that community are often structured quite differently. They tend to be much more closed off and better hidden from view than operations that seek customers among the public at large.
As an example, much of the sex trafficking in our Latino community in Sonoma County is based in housing and apartment rentals. Advertising is done through word of mouth along with a system of calling cards that get passed around from trusted person to person within the community. As a further example of just how finely tailored these operations are from venue to venue, out in our rural vineyards sex trafficking generally operates through the bars that cater to farmworkers, or through the labor contractors themselves.
The main point being, the more closed the customer base, the more clandestine and insular the operational structure, the more difficult it is for outsiders or authorities to crack it. In fact, if you’re not a member of that community, or even of a particular neighborhood, it’s not even advisable that you be the one to try.
Instead, it’s best to meet with advocates, clergy, housing managers, and others within these communities to serve as a source of information exchange. As such, it’s a project in which you need to do your homework ahead of time. Research examples of how sex trafficking operations function within minority populations of your community. Gather up appropriate materials, meet with key community members, and exchange information and ideas.
Because, in the end, even operations that target an exlusive customer base must still reach out to and involve all kinds of legitimate people within that community base. The calling cards used in our Latino community, for example, pass through the hands of a lot of people who would never think of purchasing women and girls. Many of the neighbors and families in the apartment complexes where the girls are sold are deeply unhappy and fearful that the operations are there. And just as with the previous project, they can turn and look the other way, or they can become the frontline troops on stopping it.
And also similar to the previous project, the main power and reward of both these projects are the face-to-face meetings themselves, making the good people more conscious and informed, and putting the ill-intentioned on notice they’re being watched.
Project #4: Target the Advertising Infrastructure!
If you like being more behind the scenes on the internet and sleuthing through the web, here’s a project for you.
Advertising is an essential part of the sex trafficking business model. Prior to the internet, advertising would generally take place in a given part of town, through taxi drivers, hotel staff, in classified ads, in community parks, and by word of mouth. These methods are still fully functioning today. However, in recent years and for it’s many obvious advantages, the internet and cell phones have come to outpace them all.
Websites such as backpage.com and myredbook.com provide a premium platform for trafficking women and girls. Their market reach is unlimited while, at the same time, they can be pinpoint specific in targeting your home town.
These web sites additionally provide anonymity for seller and buyer. If you’re not convinced, just go to backpage.com now, select your location, click on the adult section, escorts, and find a daily updated supply of women and girls for sale in your town.
Because these internet and cellphone platforms are stationed behind so many layers of technology, they can seem untouchable to local activists. And because they take so much of the advertising off of the traditional streets and strolls, these new platforms can also lull people into thinking this sex trafficking is not really happening in their home town.
But if you’re internet savy, you already know that maintaining these sites requires every bit as much legitimate infrastructure as other more traditional trafficking infrastructure. There are web hosts, internet service providers, web designers, banks, programmers, and sundry other human personnel. And like their counterparts in other infrastuctures, most of these people are not hardened criminals. But they have chosen to look the other way, and they are, indeed, supporting sex trafficking in your town.
They need to be located, approached, won over, and/or held to account.
So get yourself together with two or three other geeks, order up some pizzas, huddle over your computers, and start figuring out which companies are supporting these platforms, and who’s in charge of which aspect. Reach out to these individuals, and start coaxing them to fly right.
Projects 5, 6, & 7: Turning the Spotlight on Demand and Holding Johns to Account
The engine that drives modern day slavery is the trade’s most hidden and protected element. If you think back over recent media coverage you’ve seen on sex trafficking, you were probably introduced to some of the prostitute victims, and cameras were probably turned on some of the pimps. You were also probably taken to some of the motels, media, internet, and other infrastructure of the trade. Yet, in all liklihood, the throngs of customer johns who drive the industry were never explored at all.
Moreover, the johns are rarely arrested. (Across the country, over six times as many females are arrested for prostitution offenses as males.) The johns are also rarely studied by academics, never held up to scorn by religions, nor subject to any of the societal hate, harassment, villification, and violence that gets directed at the prostitutes.
Yet clearly, If it weren’t for the gazillions of johns in every niche and neighborhood of the planet, there would be no prostitution or sex trafficking anywhere. Far from the being the mythical, marginal male in the shadows, the real johns, like the perpetrators of other forms of violence against women, are our neighbors, uncles, clergy, public officials, police, coaches, teachers; the guy next door, ‘the good guys’. At minimum, one out of five men have bought women or children for sex, or more accurately, for sexual domination.
One of the most cynical and effective covers for the johns comes out of liberal thinking circles that equate the johns’ motivation with that of poor drug users whose addictions drive them mercilessly against their wills into the underworld in order to satisfy urges that border on necessity. It’s a thinking that goes beyond providing excuses and absolution for these men. It serves to virtually paint over the john’s role as primary perpetrators of sex trafficking, and presents them more as sex trafficking victims.
The reality is quite the opposite. The few studies of johns we do have find that these men already have access to sex, and that their attraction to prostitution is more as lurid sport than cravings and urges. Nor are these men buying sex, per se. They’re buying sexual domination and suppression of female autonomy.
Exposing the john and his central role at the forefront of the sex trade, debunking the myths that protect him, and demanding john accountability, are one of the most powerful projects you can undertake for ending sex slavery.
Project #5: “Dear John” Campaigns
This project has a part for everyone, from photographers, videographers, graphic designers, to imaginists, to those who like to get out and about, to meet and greet. Moreover, it’s so simple. It’s easily adaptable to all variations of circumstances and messages, and it can be used again and again. It’s a project we’ve lifted right out of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. It can only be best described by showing you some examples:
Or this video:
Or this one:
So you see, you can take this into any media, involve anyone — from parents to public officials, coaches, clergy, business owners and neighbors — and get the simple but potent message out. It’s incredibly powerful when you can get your local people speaking out publicly to the Johns. No John wants to be called out in their own home town, even if they’re not being called out by their individual name.
Project #6 Produce John Fact Sheets and Infographics
The image of the john as a desperate, sex starved, marginal male couldn’t be further from the reality. Yet it’s a persistent protective myth that needs to be targeted and replaced by the facts. The myth persists because it serves to deflect blame off the johns, and protect them from accountability. It provides a safe, comfortable cover for any man in the world to buy a women or child whenever he feels like it.
It’s worth repeating again and again. These men, for the most part are quite aware of the harm they’re doing, and they don’t care. Their average age is about 40. They are not marginal males. Most are regular guys. Most are married or have girlfriends. They generally like to buy girls the younger the better. Far from being desperate, they like the power, having their way, and making sure any vestige of autonomy these women or girls may have has been securely locked away under fear and duress. These men are exploiters, pure and simple.
Equally revealing as the facts, are quotes from the johns, themselves, as laid out in these studies.
The John Next Door
Deconstructing The Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights From Interviews With Chicago Men Who Purchase Sex
Man Up! Take the Pledge
So gather up the facts. Sprinkle them with some revealing quotes, put them together in a captivating design using background images from your local community. Distribute liberally and creatively.
Project #7: Create and Distribute a One Page Summary and Critique of Your State’s Current Legislation for Holding Traffickers and Johns to Account
It isn’t just law enforcement that protects johns from being held to account. The laws themselves are structured to set the stage for this impunity. In most states, the johns, at worst, are treated as misdemeanor offenders. The laws don’t even recognize the johns’ central role as perpetrators of sex trafficking.
To be effective, the laws also have to mandate the necessary training of law enforcement. And, of course, they need to provide appropriate punishment for pimps. Additionally, state laws should make very clear that anyone who induces a child into prostitution, with or without use of force, is guilty of sex trafficking.
Putting together a one page summary of sex trafficking legislation in your state can be invaluable for distributing to advocates, police, health officials, teachers, students, youth workers, and so many more, most of whom have so many other duties they don’t have the time to keep up on legislation. And if you create your page with an artistic flourish that’s even better. And if you can add a note of critique for improving these laws, that’s best of all.
Projects 8, 9, & 10: Transforming Law Enforcement from Part of the Problem to Part of the Solution
Still, today, from sea to shining sea, police are arresting at minimum six times as many prostitutes as johns and pimps. This is no less outrageous than police trying to stop domestic violence by arresting the victims.
Police are a key pillar of the sex trade, holding the victims down under fear of arrests, while giving a virtual green light to traffickers and johns to have at her with impunity. In fact, whether consciously or not, law enforcement is serving as the sex trade’s most powerful enforcer, playing perfectly into the hands of pimps and johns who need to keep the victims in constant fear of everyone.
Changing police consciousness and behavior, getting police on the victims’ side, and turning law enforcement sights onto the pimps and johns is no easy task. But it is perhaps the most essential and powerful task in eradicating the overwhelming human rights abuses of modern day slavery.
Project #8: Start with Statistics
If you like numbers, gathering and compiling the relevant law enforcement statistics through public record requests is a potent and quick way to raise community consciousness. These statistics can be very convincing in answering the question of whether your local law enforcement is more a part of the problem or part of the solution.
The following are examples of some of the questions that will provide a picture to your community of how, why, and which side of the equation your law enforcement is on. Note that some of these questions should be directed to your local police agencies, some to your local district attorney’s office, your police academy, and some to your jails and juvenile hall. Remember, also, these are just a sample of the kinds of questions you can ask of your local law enforcement officials.
Be sure and look up your state’s public record law (sometimes referred to as your state’s freedom of information act). Here’s some information on California’s Public Record Act, as well as information on how to write a public record request:
How to Write a Public Records Act Request
A few sample questions for illuminating local law enforcement responses to prostitution and sex trafficking:
* How many males, and how many females were arrested for prostitution offenses in a given year. What are the standard sentences for prostitutes convicted of prostituting? for Johns? What are the conviction rates for arrested prostitutes? for johns?
* For a given year, how many arrests for pimping? How many pimping convictions?
* How many hours of training in sex trafficking investigations are cadets given at the local police academy? How many hours of training annually in sex trafficking investigations for police? How many hours of training annually in sex trafficking prosecutions for prosecutors?
* How many arrests for child sexual assault? How many convictions? (How effectively your law enforcement deals with child sexual assault is key to eradicating sex trafficking as it’s been shown that a childhood history of sexual abuse is the most common vulnerability for child risk of sex trafficking.)
Don’t keep your results a secret. Publish them!
Project #9: Advocate for ‘Best Practices Policies’ from Your Law Enforcement Agencies
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. For excellent materials on ‘best practices’ for law enforcement responses to sex trafficking, see the International Association of Chiefs of Police materials on human trafficking, including roll call training videos – Scroll Down this page to the last section, the section on Human Trafficking.
Police Response to Violence Against Women
Pick a simple policy change for improving your community’s law enforcement response to sex trafficking. Put it in the form of a resolution. Prepare a three to five minute talk in support of the resolution. Take it around to your city councils and board of supervisors. Get it on the agenda. And ask them to pass the resolution.
This tactic can be quite effective since it forces your local officials to take a public thumbs up or thumbs down position on human trafficking. It thrusts the issue into the public forum, as well as putting direct pressure on the police to change. Make sure you let your local reporters in on your work.
Project #10: Watchdog Your Police Academy
You could spend the rest of your activist days just trying to fix the backward sexist practices of our local police academies, and it would be worth every minute of your time. Start with recruitment! Take a look at this typical police recruiting video:
Clearly, the kind of person attracted by this kind of mindless, adrenaline-fueled machismo couldn’t be a worse match-up for the kind of persons needed to understand and work with the young female victims traumatized by sex crimes, especially those victims who have endured the soul crushing degradations of sexual slavery.
The highly distorted, hyper-male culture of law enforcement is extremely resistant to change, but change it must. A good place to start is to critique your own community’s law enforcement recruitment, and press them to change.
Then work on making sure that the cadet classes represent the community, especially in their percentage of females and minorities! Launch your own recruiting drive!
Just as important, monitor and critique the academy training curricula for adequate time and sensitivity devoted to sex crimes, including sex trafficking! Follow and support cadets through training, including through the field training on their first job! Do exit interviews, keeping names anonymous! Monitor the teaching styles! Press for eliminating para-military style training! Educate the community!..etc..
You get the idea. The current make up and culture of police across the country couldn’t be more ill-suited and ill-recruited for dealing with the complexities of sex trafficking. And you couldn’t use your efforts to end sex trafficking more effectively than to work to change it at its roots in the recruiting and training in your local police academy.
Projects 11, 12, & 13: Educating and Engaging the General Public
The public’s many misconceptions about prostitution and sex trafficking combined with sexist stereotypes about women and girls in general, and just plain lack of knowledge, provide an inviting environment in which sex trafficking thrives. Challenging and changing public thinking is an essential task for ending sex trafficking.
There are so many ways this can be done. But four things to keep in mind whichever project you undertake are: Use imagination! Make local reference points! Target specific audiences! And, always give people something simple they can do!
Project #11: Art Ignites Consciousness
It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words and probably more. Whether it’s posters, digital art, political cartoons, info-graphics, or photography, art has the power to ignite consciousness.
But it’s challenging. So many of the images and art chosen to illustrate the need to end sex trafficking show women and girls chained, gagged, chocked, caged, and worse. Often these images seem no different than the lewd violent pornographic images men use to get turned on sexually. Here are just a couple of examples:
The significant challenge for you or your group is to conceptualize new images that get away from this problem, images that stir people’s thinking to move beyond the ambivalent views of women as bound and gagged, while at the same time not minimizing the egregious wrongs of the trade.
Think of images that teach how traffickers lure youngsters, that hold the men accountable, that call on police to take a stand, that show women breaking free, that portray a world without women enslaved etc. Your imagination is urgently needed!
And if you yourself are not the artistic type, a dynamite project would be for you to pose this challenge to art and graphics classes in your community. Ask the teachers and professors if they would consider offering this challenge as a class assignment. Ask, too, if you could set the stage with a presentation.
A recent video produced by Eve Ensler is one example of shifting images as it begins with scenes of women’s oppression and transforms to the energy and optimism of women freed. See: One Billion Rising.
Project #12: Make Sex Trafficking Quizzes, Crossword Puzzles, or other Games
For whatever reason, most people can’t resist quizzes, crossword puzzles, and games. So if you’re among those who delight in creating them, more power to you. Your delight can be put to awesome use in the cause to end sex trafficking of women and girls!
Here’s a couple tips for maximizing the educational and social change potential of the games people love to play.
* Go light on the use of statistics! As important as statistics are, they tend to take the fun out. A few well chosen statistics here and there, however, can be thought provoking enough to seize people’s attention. For example, the fact that the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14-years-old, is stunning enough to really make people think in a new way.
* Keep things simple, but not dumb.
* Incorporate as much local reference as possible. For example, here’s a question that would have relevance to our community. Which Santa Rosa Motel was sued and demolished because of it’s sex trafficking activities?
* Be nice and always make the correct answers immediately available.
Project #13: Host Movie and Pizza Nites
This is one of our favorites. Everyone loves movies and pizza. And even when the movie deals with difficult subjects, we’ve found that gathering people together at the local pizza parlor in the big room with the large screen DVD player relaxes the atmosphere, makes everyone comfortable, and opens their minds to the message.
So find the right pizza parlor in your town, find a good movie, and get the word out.
Here’s a really good film that combines suspense, action, heroism, and information, a great combination for a vibrant evening for all:
Sent to Bosnia in the aftermath of civil war, an American policewoman uncovers evidence that U.N. peacekeepers are complicit in sex-trafficking. But when she brings her findings to light, she learns that her foes are more powerful than the law…
And here’s another film that’s a true eye opener:
Very Young Girls
Critically acclaimed by the New York Times and Film Festivals around the world, “Very Young Girls” is an expose of human trafficking that follows thirteen and fourteen year old American girls as they are seduced, abused, and sold on New York’s streets by pimps, and treated as adult criminals by police. The film follows the barely-adolescent girls in real time, using vérité and intimate interviews with them as they are first lured onto the streets and the dire events which follow…
So you see, it’s easy. A few hours here and there and you can take your community on a big step toward ending modern day slavery. So what’s stopping you? Start now!
Sources: Marie De Santis, Women’s Justice Center