Although the issue we have gathered around is heartbreaking, it is unprecedented and amazing the amount of local organizations, churches, and law enforcement working to bring awareness about human trafficking in recent years, and specifically, the sex trafficking of children and youth in the United States.
America, as a collective, first heard and understood human trafficking as a global issue, something occurring in other countries. Although deplorable, we understood this evil to be possible in countries that suffer from chronic poverty and civil war. We applied, in some cases rightly and in others not, an assumption of a cultural acceptance in those places to the practice of sex with children. And there are opinions that it is not any cultures job to condemn the practices of another and what is the norm for one may not be the norm for another. (That discussion is separate, too long, and too important to begin here however.)
Having at least one degree of separation from the places, or types of circumstances, where we believe something this evil can happen makes the information, no less horrible, but easier to accept. However, when that degree of separation no longer exists and we are presented with the fact that the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and youth is happening not only in the United States, but in our neighborhoods, we find ourselves needing to wrap our heads around something that hits close to home.
One of the facts of minor sex trafficking is that it is a demand, or buyer driven, market. The buyers in this criminal network are called “John’s.” A name that like “John Doe”, provides anonymity and the hope of not being identified. They are those with the financial means and the sexual deviance to buy minors for sex slavery. They create a demand, or market, making it lucrative to traffickers to have children for sale. If there is no demand for child sex slavery, there is no market, in a financially driven system like human trafficking. The fact is the market is driven by “John.” And the fact is that “John” is the guy, and less often the woman, who lives next door to our farms and condos, works at our companies, coaches our sports teams, rents boats at our marinas, and/or attends our churches. When we learn who “John” is, we lose our degree of separation from the issue being a problem “somewhere else.”
So, who is John?
– Breaking Free* in St. Paul MN, reported that the 155 male buyers attending their John School program, in 2013/14, were by race 67% white, the next highest was Asian American at 10%, 20 – 79 yrs. of age, 52% were married, 66% had children, 72% had attended and/or received a college degree, 81% had no previous criminal background, and 61% had paid for sex before
– A recent study** on juvenile sex trafficking cases in Minneapolis, MN found that John’s ranged in age from 23 – 65 yrs. old, average age of 42 yrs., and came from urban and suburban areas stretching across the Minnesota map
– 5/20/2016, ABC News 6, Tennessee, 2 Pastors, one a children’s ministry pastor, among 32 arrested for prostitution or purchasing sex with a minor
– 6/2/2016, St Louis Post Dispatch, MO, Substitute school bus driver convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for child pornography
– 6/5/2016, Phoenix paper, Maryland, 19 year old male arrested when he arrived to have sex with a 13 year old girl he met and befriended via text messages he sent through a child’s game on Xbox.
– During my time in law enforcement, the “John’s” I encountered and arrested were men of all races, held jobs as a taxi driver, college professors, business owners, construction workers, in real estate, men traveling for business, a scientist, neighborhood block leader, church ministry volunteer, and most had wives and children including girls the same age they purchased to rape.
Do you know John?
I am always surprised and significantly impressed when I speak about awareness and prevention, especially at suburban venues. I am surprised by the amount of learning that still occurs for people hearing the facts and dynamics of juvenile sex trafficking in the United States for the first time. So awareness work still needs to be done. However, I am also impressed by the desire and motivation these communities have to not just learn that this is a local issue, but they take the information and turn it into local action for the protection of children and youth in the places they live, work, and go to church.
After facilitating a Community Café Dialogue in a northern suburb of MN, this comment made by a gentleman who had lived and done business in the area for decades, hearing about the “John’s” arrested not far from his area, said,
“I had no idea those buying sex with a child were doctors, lawyers, teachers, anybody that could be living right in our own backyards. My eyes have been opened!”
When we lose that degree of separation we realize that we are the stakeholders in the protection of children and youth from exploitation and trafficking and we are in the right positions to affect change. John may be a coworker, a neighbor, family or church member. Making a difference with John, makes an impact on demand, which tears down the market for minor sex trafficking and builds stronger and healthier communities and families in the process.
By Jessica B.| Lead Facilitator | A.C.T. United
*Statistics from Breaking Free in St. Paul MN.
** “Mapping the Market for Sex with Trafficked Minor Girls in Minneapolis: Structure, Functions, and Patterns”, 2014, by Lauren Martin, Director of research, University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center (Principal Investigator)