This week, Corban University hosted a symposium on human sex trafficking. As the chair of the advisory board overseeing this symposium, I was blessed to hear two incredible speakers, as well as facilitate a round-table discussion that included representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Human Services, the District Attorney’s office, non-profit organizations, victims and more.
Our two main speakers were Jo Lembo (and her husband, Nick) from Shared Hope International and Bethany Hoang from the International Justice Mission. I don’t think any of the information they shared was actually new for me, but it was heartbreaking to be reminded how evil all this is.
As I’ve thought about it these past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that we men must take a stand and stop supporting this stuff through our silence and tacit approval. Yes, I’m going to argue that we actually are part of the problem and that with God’s help and a bit of courage on our part we can make a significant difference.
This blog is meant for men. So, ladies, if you are reading this, you may find some of the things I am saying troubling or hard to get your head around. But as Dr. Emerson Eggerich says so well in his Love and Respect marriage series, men speak, think and hear in blue while women speak, think and hear in pink. There is always going to be dissonance. Not wrong, just different. That said, what you read may shock you, but that’s okay, it’s not really meant for you.
Okay, men, let’s get real.
In my life, I’ve never met a man who did not in some way objectify a woman as a sex object. The conclusion I am coming to is that this objectification is the first step and slippery slope that actually leads to pornography, strip clubs, prostitution, and sex trafficking.
Here are a few things worth repeating from these past few days.
- The first time a child sees pornography is in elementary school or early middle school!!
- It is not just social deviants who seek sex via strip clubs, escort services and prostitutes. It is middle class businessmen, CEOs, and well-to-do average Joes.
- Most think the women involved are all willing participants, having chosen that profession – you’re wrong.
- There are five main ways kids are groomed for sex trafficking:
- Romeo Boyfriend Pimp who takes kid under their wing and manipulates them.
- Gang Trafficking.
- Survival Sex – perform sex acts for basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing.
- Family Member sells kid into sex slavery usually for drugs.
- Guerrilla Trafficking – kidnapping child for the trade.
- It takes seven (7) times to get a victim to actually leave their pimp due to brainwashing, fear of reprisal, addiction to drugs perpetrated by the pimp and basic economic need.
Let me go back to my first statement. I’ve never met a man who didn’t objectify women in some way or another. I believe that it is actually a learned behavior that we pick up from older men both within our families and outside our families. We also see it in our media so routinely and subtly that it just becomes part of male culture. Let me give you a few examples.
I remember as a kid watching old black and white movies and the male characters who saw a woman would whistle or say something like, “What a great set of gams!” For you younger folks, that means nice legs. This was pretty innocent and tame stuff, but still, we were taught to look at women sexually.
With the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, women were openly objectified and what’s weird is they seemingly bought into it, wearing halter tops, miniskirts, go-go boots, bikinis and less! From their perspective, it was just a body-positive thing, but from the male perspective it was something much different.
In the 80s, we got HBO and with HBO came R-rated movies in our very own homes! And with R-rated movies came topless girls and sex scenes, like the movie 9 ½ weeks.
Things got riskier in the 90s with movies such as Basic Instinct. These movies and others like them were just shy of being pornos.
During all this time, advertisers started using sex to sell their products. And it wasn’t men in speedos selling us beer or burgers – it was scantily clad women. Why? Sex sells…to men. Apparently it’s working because you see it every time you turn on the TV today.
So, what does all this have to do with sex trafficking? A lot.
We men have become desensitized to sex. It’s all around us in our normal culture so we think it’s okay to do things such as:
- View pornography – you don’t even have to sneak a Playboy into the house anymore, it’s all online for free!
- Look down a woman’s blouse when they bend over. Women dress so carelessly these days these peek-a-boo shots happen daily.
- Go to the strip club for a bachelor party or just to unwind after work. They are everywhere in our communities and they usually serve a great steak – so what could be better than a steak and boobs?
- Ogle women in their yoga pants, jogging bras, and workout clothes which leave very little to the imagination.
- Check out stories with under-dressed women that appear in your social media feeds and even in the mainstream press. Heck, they are right there in the Fox News feed for goodness sake!
The church, of course, doesn’t want to talk about this stuff. It’s uncomfortable. But I’ve always said that every man likes porn. The numbers bear this out. According to a study conducted Barna Group, a stunning 95 percent of Christian men say they’ve seen porn! The other five percent are lying! But it gets worse.
In this group, 77 percent of men 18-30 say they view porn monthly; 54 percent of older Christian men say they do as well. But here’s the kicker: 57 percent of PASTORS say they view porn monthly and 64 percent of YOUTH PASTORS say they do as well.
So, men, are we just pigs? Is there something fundamentally wrong with us? Yes and no. I’m going to make an argument here that women will hate but may resonate with the male audience.
First, we all are broken, every single one of us male and female. But males are broken in a different way than females. Many of us are broken in the area of intimacy. And this brokenness leads to our offenses. Let me explain.
If you think back to your youth, how many of you had a bad, embarrassing or humiliating experience with your mom, your sister, you female cousins, a girl at school, or some other incident involving a girl or woman? Because we men are conditioned to hide our emotions – rub some dirt on it – we don’t really process this stuff like women do and are allowed to in society. What happens is we get hurt during crucial developmental periods in our youth and it carries on into our adulthood.
When intimacy becomes an issue, we find that romance with a woman is uncomfortable because it triggers unresolved issues in our behavioral intimacy development. However, our biology screams for sexual satisfaction – a hit of a chemical called Dopamine in our brain that is the feel-good drug in our mind. To get that satisfaction, men find ways of having sexual stimulation without intimacy.
Porn is a $10 billion industry! That’s a lot of men trying to get their rocks off without having to look a real woman in the eye!
But porn is a gateway drug. For a lot of men, porn gets old and they need more to stimulate that dopamine – they need live bodies not just pictures. So, they hit the strip clubs where you can see what you want to see without personal engagement. And when that get old or insufficient, guys call escort services and prostitutes – engagement without intimacy. It all seems so innocent – who are you hurting anyway.
Well, here’s the sobering truth, men. You are hurting women and a lot of them.
I found this piece explaining what researchers say about women in prostitution just to give you a sense of the issue:
“Many people believe that prostitution is a choice and a valid career path. However, this is a fallacy. Nearly all prostituted women do not choose to engage in prostitution of their own volition, but rather have been forced or coerced against their will. In the cases where women are not forced outright to engage in prostitution, they are generally forced into it by their circumstances, e.g. addiction and poverty. Additionally, 90 percent of prostituted women have been physically abused as children, 74 percent have been sexually abused by a family member, 50 percent have been sexually abused by a non-family member, and 75 percent have drug problems, damaging factors that further remove the “choice” from the equation. Once involved in prostitution, women are very often abused or murdered by johns and by pimps. In surveys of prostituted women, consistently 89 to 96 percent said that they wanted to exit the prostitution system but could not due to a lack of healthcare, money, education, and other basic resources. There is no real difference between prostitution and slavery.
“Certainly, no child every ‘chooses’ to be prostituted. And yet, the average age of the entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14 years old. This is a serious challenge to the idea that women choose to be prostituted.” (https://www.soroptimist.org/trafficking/prostitution_faq.html)
And where do these prostitutes usually get their start? Strip clubs, “modeling” jobs, soft porn. Women are conditioned to stretch their boundaries in these areas as they are prepared for trafficking. As Nick Lembo of Shared Hope International put it, consider strip clubs like minor league baseball where the women are trained for the majors.
This is a simple issue of economics – because there is a demand, there is a supply. And the demand is overwhelmingly from men.
So how do you limit demand for this illicit product? That is the $64,000 question! I believe it starts with retraining men, especially church men.
I also believe it must be done man to man. The reason for that is simple: Men don’t listen to women. From a bell-curve perspective, men see women as not understanding them, their needs and desires, and being judgmental and disrespectful of their needs and desires. So, when a woman says you need to knock off the locker room talk, men just roll their eyes – you don’t get male culture, male bonding, or male peer pressure. But when a man says knock off the locker room talk, we have a right to speak to another man about it because, well, we’re men and we get each other and have the right to talk with each other this way due to our shared experience.
In my mind, here are the questions we must answer as we drill down on this issue:
- How do you teach men not to objectify women?
- How do you teach men not to use course and misogynist language?
- How do you teach men to deal with their intimacy issues?
- How do you teach men not to act on their impulses even when society says it’s okay?
- How do you teach men to intervene with other men to teach them the same things?
The answer, of course, is Jesus! (It always is, right?!)
In our own power, we cannot possibly have the strength to overcome our biology, our learned behavior, our developmental dysfunctions, and our cultural norms. It’s just too much. When you add Satan fanning the flames of all this stuff, it’s impossible.
But let’s talk a little about what Jesus demands of us as men of God.
First, Jesus tells us clearly that we have to fight our lust. Matthew 5:28 tells us that if we even look at a woman lustfully we’ve already committed adultery with her! Jesus didn’t mess around on this topic. He knows we have a problem with lustful thoughts!
Ohio State University did a study to see how often men thought about sex. Their research showed men think about sex roughly 19 times a day. So, it’s not once every seven seconds as the myth portrays, but it is more than once an hour of our waking day! So, up to 19 times a day we’re lustful and breaking Jesus’ command.
In my own power, I cannot overcome my flesh, but through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit I can! But it’s not a here today gone tomorrow proposition. It is a fight against the devil every step of the way. You will have days, weeks, months where you have no desire because you are in the word, praying, and with Jesus. Then, Satan will get you by tempting you with a photo you see or a girl jogging by. You must constantly be in prayer and repentance.
Second, the language thing. I laughed out loud when LeBron James claimed that he had never heard crass and misogynist language in a locker room during his NBA playing career when responding to crass and misogynist language President Trump reportedly used. Shortly thereafter, Sports Illustrated ran a story about Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers quoting very similar language in their locker room.
Men use coarse language. We use it against each other, which we euphemistically call “Trash Talk.” We use it in the locker room, which professional athletes tell us is their private sanctuary. We use it in the military, where woman often are just as foul-mouthed as the men! The only place we really don’t use it is in polite society. But even there you hear popular music use all sorts of trash talking and derogatory terms for both men and women, people of color, and more. Swearing is social acceptable as is misogyny in many male circles.
I can hear the “old Tom” saying, “Come on, Tom. Lighten up. We don’t mean anything by it. It’s just fun and blowing off a little steam.” Yup, I used to think that. But now I don’t. I think language matters.
Scripture tells us not to use coarse language – Ephesians 4:29. Jesus made that one pretty black and white!
Scripture also tells us we are to honor women, protect them, treat them as equals, and more. Women are made in God’s image just like we are!
We have to get rid of our locker room mentality. I know some of the stuff is really funny, but it’s really not if you think about it. You wouldn’t say it about your mom, your girlfriend, your wife, or even your sister. So, don’t say it about other women just because you don’t actually know them or you’re made at them and sin in your anger!
You must change your speaking habits and strive for encouraging words, holy words, not words that tear down, make fun of, belittle, or worse.
The third issue is the hardest – how do you get men to deal with their intimacy issues. This is hard because men have never been taught to deal with such issues. We’re just supposed to suck it up and drive on. It doesn’t matter if we’re satisfied so long as the wife is happy. Happy wife, happy life. Right, guys?
Well, not so fast.
Here’s a secret – our wives aren’t happy! They’re not happy because we’re not engaged with them. They’re not happy because we don’t like to talk about intimate things with them. They’re not happy because our sexual need seems so physical while their needs are emotional. They’re not happy because we seem so unhappy. And they’re not happy because they think we like the girl in the picture better than we like them.
I actually don’t know how many men have been hurt at an intimate level by the women in their lives, but I do know that every man I’ve bounced this off of agrees. Not very scientific, but still an indicator. The question is this: Does it matter? I would argue it does.
I always wondered why God included the Song of Solomon in the Bible. It’s like reading a Harlequin Romance – not very interesting for us guys, and sets an expectation for us to meet that seems as impossible as those romance novels women sometimes read. But then it hit me; the Holy Spirit revealed something to me.
The Song of Solomon is not just a chick book – it’s for us men as well. God is showing us how intimacy should look with our spouse versus how intimacy actually looks with our spouse. If we all had the kind of intimacy that Solomon has in that book, AND the same kind of responsiveness given to him by his lover, there would be no interest in porn, strip clubs and all the rest. But, that’s not what we have and we don’t even try to get there.
Guys, I know it’s a brutal topic, but we have to work harder on this issue! We can no longer substitute what God has created for us in relationship with our spouses for intimate-free sex. If you need a change of heart, pray about it and ask God to intervene. If you need your spouse to do something different, tell her – chances are good she’ll help. If you need counseling because your issues are too deep, get it.
It’s our intimacy issues that are driving the demand that is causing sex trafficking. I can’t make it any clearer than that!
As for societal norms, screw societal norms! We must be men of God who work every day to please and glorify God even at the expense of our friend’s approval. If the guys are hanging around talking crap about women, don’t join in and tell them to knock it off. If the guys want you to go to your buddy’s bachelor party at the strip club, tell them no, and give them another idea for the party. When a buddy tells you to look out your window and the girl jogging down the road wearing next to nothing, don’t look. Do like Job and make a covenant with your eyes! (Job 31:1). We have to stop falling for Satan’s trap of believing that if society says it’s okay then it’s okay with God. It’s NOT!
The last point is the biggie. If we all just made a difference in our own circles of influence, we could make a dent in this problem. I’m not asking you to go out form a non-profit and fight this scourge for a living. But I am asking you to make a difference where you are.
If you have access to boy, adolescents and young men, train them up the right way! Teach them not to objectify women, look at porn or do the things all the other guys are doing.
In your work place, gyms, service clubs, and churches talk about this stuff. Make sure people know the facts – porn, strip clubs and the rest are vehicles for sex trafficking. So long as there is demand there will be supply so we need to work to cut off the demand.
In your own lives find an accountability partner or group who will help you with your own struggles! I can’t stress the importance of having someone you can trust with anything so you can work together to be overcomers.
Lastly, talk to God every moment of every day. The enemy prowls around like a lion waiting for someone to devour. You may not be the target, but you may be an unknowing accomplice as Satan targets that poor kids who’s about to be sold into sex slavery.
I know I’ve written a lot here – more than I usually do. But this topic is so important for us men to own. I know that not every man is a rapist as some of the hard-core feminist like to say. But I also know that every man has a problem and most of us – the vast majority of us – would gladly be free of that problem and want to join the fight against what Bethany Hoang called “profiting from rape.”
If you want to get involved with the anti-sex trafficking effort, check out Shared Hope International, the International Justice Mission, or any of the many organizations in your own community. Without us men standing up to this issue, nothing will change and you know it. So join with me to what you can where you are to make a difference!