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Q&A: Educating Young Men as a Way to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Photograph of three young men talking next to a chain-link fence.

As we recognize National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month this January, it’s important to acknowledge the role of demand. As long as individuals are willing pay for sex, pimps and traffickers will continue targeting and profiting from vulnerable youth.

To reduce the profitability of sexual exploitation, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation in 2010 developed a pilot curriculum for high school boys called “Empowering Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation.” Originally intended for classroom use, the curriculum has since been adopted by youth-serving organizations across the country to educate teen boys on commercial sexual exploitation and how they can take a stand.

NCFY spoke with the alliance’s Caleb Probst about the curriculum, the organization’s research on the demand for prostitution (PDF, 642KB), and how teaching young men about the exploitative nature of the sex industry can enlighten them in other ways, as well.

NCFY: The alliance interviewed 113 men in Chicago who, on average, said they first bought sex at age 21. How did that finding impact the way you interact with teen boys?

Probst: The goal of the curriculum is preventative in nature. It’s not an intervention. It really starts by breaking down some of the social constructs of gender, the kind of hyper-masculinity that gets portrayed in the media and the notion that women are objects to be consumed or exploited in one way or the other. So really, it’s a safe space to have important dialogue and a space where [youth] feel like they’ll be listened to and won’t be judged or corrected for wondering about various behaviors.

NCFY: Why focus on reducing the demand for sexual exploitation?

Probst: Our founder, Rachel Durchslag, started the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation with the intention of focusing almost exclusively on the demand side because society’s response for so long has been the other side. Her approach was let’s really do something that’s going to change society’s response as a whole.

We have a three-pronged approach: one is to change policy, second is to provide legal representation to survivors of exploitation and sexual assault, and then the third is this education and prevention piece to really get out and inform our community, starting with young men. We also speak to other groups about this issue to look at what is it that makes some people believe that they can purchase another person for their own satisfaction.

NCFY:  You set out to educate young men about commercial sexual exploitation. Can that information also impact how they approach their own relationships?

Probst: Absolutely. Part of what we found in the research was that the vast majority [of men purchasing sex] had partners and talked about some pretty profound problems within their relationships. Their way of dealing with this was to go out and buy sex as an escape.

So when these young men see that, they say, “Oh, I guess there are ways I can talk to my partner, and that would be a more responsible way of handling it.”

It also gets into this idea that if a man is unhappy in a relationship, he has a responsibility to communicate his feelings and what he is looking for in the relationship. It’s not the woman’s job to read his mind.

Read the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation’s report “Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution” (PDF, 642KB).

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