Kathleen Winn, the executive director of the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network in Phoenix; Marian Hatcher, the project manager for the Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Program with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Chicago; Pastor Paul Palmer with Out of Darkness in Atlanta; and Peter Qualliotine from the Organization for Prostitution Survivors in Seattle participated in the discussion.
Though the panelists came from different backgrounds, professions, and geographic locations, they voiced unanimous support for the Nordic model. The model is not the official policy response to sexual exploitation and human trafficking in the United States, but leaders have recognized how effective it is in stopping sexual exploitation and are taking steps in their own cities to foster this method.
In January 2015, when Super Bowl XLIX was held in Arizona, the city of Phoenix put together the “Arizona’s Not Buying It” campaign. The Super Bowl has been dubbed “the single largest human trafficking event in the U.S.,” and for more than two years before the game, Arizona took preemptive steps through regulation, law, and education to stop the increase in sexual exploitation that occurs with the influx of sports enthusiasts, alcohol, and money.
During the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, 600 people were arrested for selling or buying women. This was part of the “National Day of Johns Arrest,” a nationwide campaign spearheaded by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said in a statement that
“sex trafficking continues to destroy countless lives, and this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime… it’s particularly meaningful that this sting culminated on the day of the Super Bowl, which has unfortunately emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.”
The “National Day of Johns Arrest” did a tremendous job of bringing attention to the realities of prostitution and brought about consequences for the exploiters, but this movement and Cook County cannot act alone. While there has been a visible cultural shift surrounding sexual exploitation, it is important that these efforts be nationwide, because one city cannot by itself end sexual exploitation — otherwise, it will just thrive in the next city over. Hatcher explained that in Cook County, only one woman is arrested for every 25 men arrested in prostitution stings — the same cannot be said for other counties in the Chicago area. Prostitution is much harder to find now in Cook County than it was five years ago, but it is even more prevalent in the next jurisdiction.
As men and leaders of nonprofit organizations, Palmer and Qualliotine are able to speak to the importance of including men and boys in this movement. They shifted the spotlight from the women to the men because while prostitution has long been seen as a women’s issue,
“it’s primarily a system of men’s violence”
against women. Palmer leads the Atlanta Dream Center and its ministry, Out of Darkness. By focusing on reaching, rescuing, and restoring the women and girls trapped in exploitation in Atlanta, Out of Darkness helped 264 women escape sexual exploitation last year. But rescuing the women is not the only role for nonprofit organizations to play. Palmer stressed that the Christian church has an obligation to teach young men about masculinity so that they have the ethical courage to stand up against sexual exploitation.
The organization Qualliotine leads, Organization for Prostitution Survivors, is working to educate buyers of sexual services about the consequences of their actions. He has been a part of numerous groups working to understand the root causes of prostitution as sexual exploitation, one of which is the desire to meet relational needs through non-relational sexual activity. The organization’s “john school” provides men arrested for sexual exploitation a space to understand why it is wrong to buy sex from a prostitute. During the classes, he tells stories about the girls and women he knows. Many survivors of prostitution have said that when they were in the life, they liked to work bachelor parties because it was likely that when they got in the room with the groom-to-be, he would say, “I don’t want to do anything, but don’t tell those guys out there.”
What makes it so difficult for men to stand up to other men and say that buying women for sex is not okay?
During the World Summit, Simon Haggstrom from the Swedish police force spoke about the original goal of the Nordic model: to create gender equality in Sweden. The model has been successful largely because of this goal, because when women are no longer viewed as sexual commodities, they are able to become equals with men in society. This is the same mindset many activists in the U.S. are adopting in order to implement the Nordic model in their own cities.
While prostitution has long been regarded as “the world’s oldest profession,” Winn, Hatcher, Palmer, and Qualliotine said that it is really the world’s oldest form of oppression. Despite how daunting the task of ending sexual exploitation is, the roundtable participants made it clear that sexual exploitation is learned behavior. In order to understand why sex is bought and sold and why one gender often exploits another, we have to shift the focus away from arresting the survivors to arresting exploiters. Although the U.S. has not yet implemented the Nordic model, cities around the country are taking steps to shift the focus and bring about an end to sexual exploitation through education, regulation, and law and community engagement.
Check out the full conversation and find out about ways you can be involved in this movement: