PROVIDENCE â Like any other commodity, sex would not be sold if there was no one to buy it.
Thatâs 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 âand 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.â
RICAHT is launching a âTime to End the Demandâ campaign focused on convincing, cajoling and shaming âjohns.â From now until the end of the year, 16 RIPTA buses will carry large âDear Johnâ 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.
âWithout you and your cash, sex trafficking would not exist,â 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 âyou are the reason why pimps and traffickers are inspired to find younger girls â thatâs 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.â
âI firmly believe this a generational quest,â Dudman said. âWithout educating the next generation to the myths around prostitution and sex trafficking, we wonât be able to end this.â
Dudman called Roberts âa critical partner in combating the crime of sex trafficking in our state.â
Roberts congratulated RICAHT âfor getting this really blunt and really direct message out there in a very public way.
âThese are pretty bold and direct messages, and Iâm proud one of them comes from meâ Roberts said, âThis is about saying we donât need to be prosecuting the victims of sex trafficking, we need to be stopping the perpetrators.â
âThese 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.â
Kilmartin, lauded as the first RI attorney general to prosecute and imprison sex traffickers, declared, âI like this message. You know what? Weâre not going to focus on the victim, the woman or in some cases the child whoâs been put out on the street for prostitution purposes. Weâre going to focus on the purchaser who really provides the demand factor that makes this possible. Weâre 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 youâre the two big parts of this problem. Weâre going to fight you with every means we have under the law.â
Perry, who sponsored the stateâs first sex trafficking law, as well as follow-up legislation, said, âHuman trafficking, especially young women, exists because there is money in it. It persists because there is a market for it.
âDisrupting this demand, as well as punishing the suppliers and users is essential,â she said. âThe 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, âEducation 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.â
âJohn is a highly sanitized term,â Pisaturo told reporters. âBecause men who buy sex from minors are abusers and child molesters. Zero tolerance for johns and pimps and traffickers is overdue.â
Kilmartin acknowledged that police departments have occasionally targeted johns in sweeps and stings for years, but said Monday, âfrom a prosecutorial standpoint, there are much stronger laws and many stronger tools today,â to go after the demand side of the sex trade.