Connecting the Dots
By Caleb Probst, Education Outreach Associate, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
I’d like to begin today with a word-association game. I’ll say a word, and then I want you to say the first thing that comes to mind. Make sense? Good.
Are you ready?
Now, I want everyone to participate.
Ok, let’s begin. “Pimp.”
Next one. “Prostitution.”
Great. Last one. “John.”
Thank you all for playing this little game. It is an activity that I often use in my work with students—particularly young men—all across Chicago, as I seek to expose some of the violent and exploitive realities that exist within the sex trade and to explore some of the driving forces behind it. If you are anything like the students I work with, your initial responses to the word “pimp” probably involved some of the same images that Dael Orlandersmith shows us in Mike’s story: “loud colored suits,” “hats at a rakish angle,” or “shiny patent leather shoes.” While men like this certainly exist, they represent a very small portion of what pimps actually look like in America today. Far more common, are pimps—traffickers according to federal law—like Louie. These men, and occasionally women, draw so little attention that they can walk around places like the family-friendly bowling alley, Playland, and operate a prostitution ring completely unnoticed.
That brings us to prostitution. “Women selling their bodies” is the most common response. Typically we also associate violence, poverty, and drugs with it, just as we see in the stories of Mike and Timmy. We often do not, however, often think of people like Flaco.
It is estimated that the average age of entry into prostitution is around 13. Often these children and teens, like Flaco, have been sexually abused and are homeless, thus making them easy targets for pimps and traffickers.
Flaco isn’t the exception; he’s the rule.
After students get past their initial horror and outrage at this, they often ask, “Why is this happening?” The simple answer is, “money.” It’s supply and demand economics, and that’s where the johns come in.
While little is known about individuals who purchase sex, two things are clear. First, they come from all walks of life—rich, poor, old, young, white, black, brown, married, single, divorced, PhDs, and GEDs. Second, they provide the driving force behind sexual exploitation and trafficking: demand. They are willing to pay large sums of money for a product, which in this case is sex. And just like we see with sneakers, blue jeans, or hybrid cars, when the customer demands a product, someone will create the supply.
Remember Louie? He sells his supply of boys—over, and over, and over again—to men who will pay him. For every thirty dollars he gave Flaco, he pocketed three hundred. If you multiply that by ten other boys perhaps, everyday for a year, then Louie’s profits begin to grow exponentially.
In Black n Blue Boys/Broken men, Orlandersmith paints a haunting picture of the tragic and cyclical nature of violence. This same cycle of violence has wrapped itself around prostituted individuals in the sex trade, and will remain tightly bound as long as demand persists. The cycle can be broken, however, through awareness and education. That is what I try do every time I go into a high school to talk with students about this.
I end every class with this question: “What are you going to do about it?” Answers vary. Some say they will think twice before calling someone a “hoe.” Some want to raise awareness too, so they post what they’ve learned on Facebook. A few begin mentoring—helping kids today to grow up to love and respect even the most vulnerable among us.
So, now you know. What are you going to do about it?