Sex trafficking operates on a market system.

Where there is demand for commercial sex, traffickers capitalize on the opportunity to make an astronomical profit and supply that demand with human bodies for consumption. To a trafficker, commodification of a person is the bread and butter of their abusive and illicit business.

So, if nobody desired buying sex or even objectified people, the business of sex trafficking would become nonexistent. A trafficker’s ability to make money would disappear.

That’s the logic behind the demand reduction strategy to end human trafficking. So, how do we reduce demand to zero?

Let’s begin with some background information. For the entirety of the anti-human trafficking movement (which began around 2000 with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act), almost all resources have been directed to victim services and prevention of victimization – the “supply” side of the equation.

It is a necessity to funnel resources to programs that reduce community vulnerabilities, train professionals to identify victims, and provide services to help victims recover from the trauma of being trafficked.

However, focusing on these aspects alone has come at the detriment of long-range prevention efforts, which is demand reduction program implementation.

In the United States, there is a prevailing culture of acceptance around buying sex.

The cornerstone of that acceptance is the oversexualization of people, especially our children. From TV shows to movies to music and clothes marketed to pre-pubescent girls, our society is flooded with images depicting people as sexual objects to be used.

This general acceptability of sexualizing people has led to the normalization of pornography consumption. Pornography reinforces the notion that men are entitled to sexual gratification at the expense, predominantly, of women and girls. Their consent is not required, and their pleasure and/or pain during the act is of absolutely no consequence.

People who are high consumers of porn may begin to seek out more stimulating sexual diversions. In many cases, they move on to using prostituted people in real life.

To stop the cycle, it is imperative that we dismantle the cultural acceptance of objectification of women and girls. It is also necessary to dismantle the ingrained belief that men are entitled to sexual gratification.

We need to understand the sex buyers. Almost all sex buyers are men, so I will limit this discussion to the male population.

Sex buyers are not a homogenous group. On the upside of this discussion, 80% of American men have never purchased sex. Only 6% purchased sex in the last year.

Those who have, for the most part, are not consistent buyers. This group of sex buyers only did so once or infrequently. For this population, buying sex is not an ingrained habit, so education may prevent them from buying sex in the first place or from purchasing it again.

Only 25% (of the 6% that purchased sex in the last year) of American men are high-frequency buyers. It is on this population that we can focus intervention efforts around demand reduction.

These men are considered to be compulsive buyers. Education alone is not enough to change a compulsive behavior. If the person wants to change, intense therapy will be required.

How can we provide treatment for the compulsive sex buyer?

For many, the entry point for potential behavior change is actually being arrested for buying sex. If the sex buyer could be assessed prior to the court date, he could be directed to the appropriate behavior-changing strategy for him.

The compulsive sex buyer would be directed into long term, intense counseling. The occasional buyer would be directed to an education program, which can be an all-day session or several sessions over a certain period of time.

These education sessions would include a survivor of the sex trade who debunks the myths of full consent and/or the idea that most people who sell sex do so because they enjoy it. They would share their actual experience, which will include stories of extreme abuse and violence by the traffickers and the sex buyers.

For some buyers, when they learn that the “prostitutes” aren’t there voluntarily, that is enough to change their behavior. The idea that these victims “choose” to be prostitutes is ridiculous when one looks at the amount of force, fraud and coercion that is used to help a person “choose” to be a prostitute.

But the truth is, most sex buyers don’t get arrested. So, it will be up to those citizens who are committed to reducing demand for commercial sex to do this work on a personal and community level.

We as parents and grandparents, along with schools, churches and the media need to change the message we are sending to young men.

Women and girls are as strong and valuable as men and boys. They deserve respect and to be treated as equals.

Men and boys are not entitled to sexual gratification. Dissolving the notion of male entitlements is a major paradigm shift, but it can be done.

If the cultural mindset changes, the consumption of pornography and sex buying will decrease.

Please join this fight, and understand that raising your sons to respect women, and correcting misperceptions about prostitution and sex buying among your peer group, will help.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week, calling attention to January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

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