For those who are new to the issue, here are some important facts:
- The average age of entry into forced prostitution in the United States is 13
- Hundreds of thousands of American girls and boys are enslaved today
- Each year, sex trafficking generates $39 billion in profits globally
- 90 percent of the children and youth trafficked for sexual purposes in the U.S. are citizens of our own country
- An estimated one million children are forced to work in the global sex industry every year
Last year, we traveled the world learning about this issue. I visited Russia with the U.S. State department to learn more about technology solutions to child sex slavery. Demi visited Haiti to learn about how extreme poverty contributes to the growth of the issue. We met with survivors, politicians, law enforcement officers and everyone we could to learn what we could do. Ultimately, we determined that the best use of our time and energy was to focus on changing the behavior of the pimps who sell and the “johns” who buy children for sex. Our goal is to intervene before they engage in buying children for sex and to punish them if they do so. We learned that sex slavery is an elastic trade. We want to make the costs of buying and selling children for sex so high that most of the people who are currently doing it just don’t.
Studies show that the average “john” is married, in his 30’s, and has no criminal record.
San Francisco has something called a First Offender Program, nicknamed the “John School.” When someone is caught soliciting sex for the first time, he is forced to pay a $500 fee and attend a day education program about sex trafficking. In this program, he hears the stories of real victims of sex slavery. A study of this program showed that out of 2,200 men who attended, only 18 were re-arrested. This represents a .008 percent recidivism rate. So only 0.008 percent of men who attended the school were caught soliciting sex again, as compared to the normal rate for these types of offenders, which is 33 percent.
This tells us something important.
By intervening, we can actually stop people from perpetuating the vicious cycle of child sex slavery. And that’s what we are doing through our DNA Foundation. We have a number of initiatives in place aimed at curbing the demand for child sex slaves and changing the cultural stereotypes associated with this issue. We are working with law enforcement to help them train officers to punish pimps and johns. We are advocating for comprehensive legislation that protects survivors of sex slavery and treats them as the victims they are instead of criminals, as is often currently the case. We have established a technology task force that is working to reduce and eventually eliminate the sexual exploitation of children online. And finally, we are about to launch a campaign that will help engage men in the fight against child sex slavery.
One problem with child sex slavery is that it’s a difficult issue to think about. It’s a hurdle everyone who works on this issue deals with. We have all had the experience of trying to bring up the issue at a dinner party and hearing the room get quiet. So Demi and I have tried to make the issue more approachable. We want to engage people, educate them, get them thinking and talking about it, in order to raise awareness and ultimately end child sex slavery. We came up with the concept of the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign, which aims to engage people, specifically men, in the issue. To do so, we filmed short, funny videos about things “Real Men” do, starring high-profile influential men and women. The concept of the campaign is that Real Men do a lot of silly, even foolish things. But one thing they don’t do is buy children for sex. That’s not funny, and Real Men don’t do it.
We are launching these videos as an interactive online campaign April 11th on Facebook and YouTube. We also developed a t-shirt design contest with a company called Threadless to raise awareness about and funds for the cause. More than 200 artists submitted designs and 60,000 people voted to determine the winners. Take a look at some of the incredible designs. At our campaign launch party in New York, we will screen the videos and announce the winning t-shirt designs, all with the goal of raising awareness about the cause and involving other high-profile endorsers.
You can make a difference in this issue, and in the lives of innocent children. It isn’t a problem that is happening “somewhere else.” These girls could be your neighbors, your sisters, your daughters. To learn how else you can get involved, visit our website or find us on Twitter.
Thanks so much,
Co-Founder, The DNA Foundation