Ending Human Trafficking: It’s a man’s issue!

“Time and time again, we are the lions” Steve Connell

I’m exhausted. I’ll be honest. I’m tired of having to stand, often times alone, in a group of men and make a choice to either laugh at the sexist joke or face potential name calling if I speak up.

In fact, this recently happened. I stood with two men while the man behind the counter told a sexist joke. Without even a glimmer of a smile back to him I said firmly, “yea… wrong audience…” and there was a long, awkward silence that persisted before one of the men said, “alright! thank you” and we walked away.

I wonder if he got the message that jokes like that weren’t okay? Would it have been better if the men I was with didn’t give a “sympathy”laugh and instead said, “that’s a horrible joke.”?

Alan Berkowitz, the founder of the “Social Norms Theory”  posits that the majority of men are uncomfortable with the gendered norms society has placed on them. Essentially, things like “locker room talk” and sexist jokes aren’t actually acceptable for most men but most men think other men believe these things to be important.

Sadly, those men’s – the silent majorities – opinions are left out of the discussion as they try to “look cool” or be a “bro”. It’s a terrifying thing to stand against the grain. We’ll discuss more of this when we address “Toxic Masculinity”, but I want to draw our attention to how it is actually negatively impacting our fight against sex trafficking.

If more men don’t speak up and be honest about their feelings when it comes to these things, we won’t see a decline.

It’s been women leading the way to fight for the end of sexual violence, despite men holding so much power. Names like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Gloria Steinem are readily on our minds when we think about ending violence against women and equality.

Women make up the majority of victims of gendered crime. In particular, women make up 55% of the more than 20 million human trafficking victims. While men, make up the majority of perpetrators, buyers, and sellers – even when considering male victims!

Violence against women is largely a MALE DOMINATED “ACTIVITY”.  I’m not attempting to shame anyone, but something has got to give, and that something is the male ego …

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women … ” Jackson Katz

When we talk about sexual violence our discussion tends to be full of details of specific assaults and victim information. I’ll wager we can each name someone we know who’s been sexually violated. Yet, like Jackson Katz’s observation, we come up short with details around the perpetrators time and time again.

How can this be? 

Sadly, the truth is we all know perpetrators of sexual violence, it’s just they’re protected by rape culture – a culture that tells us violence against women is NORMAL, so normal we’ve begun to discuss violence against women in shades.

“Well, she wasn’t raped, it could have been worse.” or “That’s all he did? Doesn’t seem like assault to me.” 

As we discussed in a recent post, the way we think about perpetrators and sexual violence will often impact our ability to see the perpetrators standing in front of us.

Again, I get it, who wants to admit they know someone who sexually assaulted someone? It’s not easy, but as we continue down this road, I hope we get to a place where we aren’t afraid to admit it and see it when someone does something horrible.

“Why should men get involved? It’s the right thing to do. We need to. Men, we are the problem, as well as the solution.” Jeff Teresi, Eternal Thanks

First, we need more men in this fight. Women cannot do this alone. We know that the majority of sexual assaults or gendered violence is done by a minority of men. This means that the majority of men are good!

So, why aren’t more men speaking up towards other men and/or about their own experiences of sexual violence. I believe it can be boiled down to two issues: fear of rejection from other men and misconceptions about the feminist movement.

Historically, the idea of feminism, which has really been the catalyst for ending gendered violence, has been misperceived as a “woman’s only” club. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the late 1800’s thru early 1900s the world feminism didn’t exist in America. It was taking from France and cultural replaced the “woman’s movement” – which was a “women only” club as it focused purely on women’s right to vote. Feminism however focused on gender and race equality. The two movements are vastly different in their goals they wish to achieve, however the one thing that binds them together is that women largely made up these groups.

Men are welcome in this fight! 

In an upcoming blog post we’ll dive deeper into the fear of rejection, and some reasons I believe men aren’t as involved as they should be, but it’s incredibly important that men start to switch their silent disapproval of things like; rape jokes, misogyny, sexism, objectifying women, “locker room talk” (both inside and outside of the locker room), rating women on a scale, discussing “conquests”, and encouraging toxic masculinity into full blown screams of disapproval.

We can’t continue to pretend that violence against women doesn’t impact males. Ask any man who watched their father beat their mother how it impacted their view of the world, and of the male gender.

It’s not just women who are the victims – everyone suffers when one gender is hurt by another.

For more on this topic, please take some time and watch Jackson Katz tedtalk: “Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue”. Comment below your thoughts!

What are some barriers to speaking up? What are some ways you have challenged other men?





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