PROVIDENCE — Like any other commodity, sex would not be sold if there was no one to buy it.
That’s why the RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) is pointing an accusatory finger at men who patronize prostitutes as the real source of suffering and degradation.
There is a cause and effect relationship, the group says, between men paying for commercial sex acts and traffickers exploiting victims. There is a cause and effect relationship, they add, between an man purchasing a sex act from an 18, 25 or 35-year-old “and a pimp who stakes out a neighborhood, ready to prey upon the next runaway he can coerce into prostitution in exchange for food and a place to stay.”
RICAHT is launching a “Time to End the Demand” campaign focused on convincing, cajoling and shaming “johns.” From now until the end of the year, 16 RIPTA buses will carry large “Dear John” ads on their sides as they roll down Rhode Island roads. The ads will feature photographs of Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Providence Sen. Rhoda Perry and Laura Pisaturo, former director of advocacy and legal services for Day One, the sexual assault and trauma resource center in Providence, and a message to johns about the implications of their activities.
“Without you and your cash, sex trafficking would not exist,” some of the bus messages read.
RICAHT is spending about $7,000 on the campaign.
At a Statehouse press conference Monday, RICAHT Chairwoman Tammy Dudman read one of the messages aloud, telling johns “you are the reason why pimps and traffickers are inspired to find younger girls – that’s right, younger girls. The average age of entry into prostitution is 13, with pimps preying on their victims within 48 hours of a child running away from home.”
“I firmly believe this a generational quest,” Dudman said. “Without educating the next generation to the myths around prostitution and sex trafficking, we won’t be able to end this.”
Dudman called Roberts “a critical partner in combating the crime of sex trafficking in our state.”
Roberts congratulated RICAHT “for getting this really blunt and really direct message out there in a very public way.
“These are pretty bold and direct messages, and I’m proud one of them comes from me” Roberts said, “This is about saying we don’t need to be prosecuting the victims of sex trafficking, we need to be stopping the perpetrators.”
“These are daughters, these are mothers, these are real people and you are victimizing them when you take your cash out to purchase sex from one of them.”
Kilmartin, lauded as the first RI attorney general to prosecute and imprison sex traffickers, declared, “I like this message. You know what? We’re not going to focus on the victim, the woman or in some cases the child who’s been put out on the street for prostitution purposes. We’re going to focus on the purchaser who really provides the demand factor that makes this possible. We’re going to emphasize that you are part of this problem as much as the pimp. Our office will gladly prosecute you as well as the pimp because you’re the two big parts of this problem. We’re going to fight you with every means we have under the law.”
Perry, who sponsored the state’s first sex trafficking law, as well as follow-up legislation, said, “Human trafficking, especially young women, exists because there is money in it. It persists because there is a market for it.
“Disrupting this demand, as well as punishing the suppliers and users is essential,” she said. “The focus should surely be on the issue of demand; we need to get this cruel industry out of Rhode Island once and for all.
Perry said education is a key part of the solution, “Education by mothers, by wives, by sisters, by lovers and by friends. We have to educate our men so they know that seeking sex from a trafficked woman is not appropriate and they should not do that.”
“John is a highly sanitized term,” Pisaturo told reporters. “Because men who buy sex from minors are abusers and child molesters. Zero tolerance for johns and pimps and traffickers is overdue.”
Kilmartin acknowledged that police departments have occasionally targeted johns in sweeps and stings for years, but said Monday, “from a prosecutorial standpoint, there are much stronger laws and many stronger tools today,” to go after the demand side of the sex trade.