Ending Demand: Sex Trafficking in New York

“If men didn’t buy sex, there would be no sex trafficking.”

Tuesday night, the WMC attended a panel discussion about sex trafficking in New York. Hosted by Sanctuary for Families (SFFNY), the event kicked off the End Demand NYC campaign and featured Rachel Lloyd from GEMS, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and many other prominent advocates.

An estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, but how many here in the US? Just in New York City, GEMS supported over 300 domestically trafficked girls in the last year. In fact, New York is a central artery of the multi-billion dollar global sex trafficking industry. This may come as a surprise to many, since human trafficking is typically portrayed as something that happens elsewhere, in less developed countries, but not here in our own backyard.

Whether in Times Square or Cambodia, Kristof spoke about how the hurdles are similar. Victims remain largely invisible and without the political capital to help themselves. And using the word “victim” might have greater repercussions. How do we distinguish between a “survivor” and a “victim” of trafficking? Rachel Lloyd talked about how there is, in fact, no difference, and in order to change the existing paradigm, we must stop talking about “real” victims or “good” victims, because there is no one face of trafficking.

So how do we change the conversation, and shift the paradigm to create a society that doesn’t permit these abuses to continue?

We live in a culture that glamorizes prostitution and pimps, said Dorchen Leidholdt, of SFFNY. New York passed groundbreaking anti-trafficking legislation in 2007, but it hasn’t had the large-scale effect that many hoped for. Indeed, the bill was signed into law under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, once a prominent advocate against sex trafficking and later felled for buying sex. He never served time.

Such as in that case, there are often white, middle-class women who come forward to talk about how they did, in fact, have a choice going into the sex industry. These are the exceptions though, said Rachel Lloyd. She asserted that until there’s “a level playing field,” and women from all races, socio-economic backgrounds and legal status begin with the same opportunities, we really can’t talk about “choice” in sex trafficking.

What we can focus on is the demand. Without a demand for sex, after all, there would be no trafficking. How do we begin to shift that paradigm, end demand, and encourage a culture that places greater value on women and girls’ bodies?

At the WMC we can start with the media. PWV Alumna and Change.org Director of Women’s Rights Shelby Knox is taking on The New York Times with this petition campaign. Visit SFFNY’s End Demand campaign to find out more about how you get involved.

This post was originally published by The Women’s Media Center.


Photo courtesy of Cesar Augusto Serna Sz via flickr
Written by Sarah Schwartz, a Women's Media Center blogger


Nisansala P.
Nisansala Perera3 years ago

“If men didn’t buy sex, there would be no sex trafficking.”
end of story...
if only all men could ever rise to that level of sophistication...

Neal King
Neal King6 years ago

I think the best approach is to legalize prostitution, so that it becomes a legitimate profession.

Sounds weird, but it would give women involved more power over their own bodies, because they could not be threatened by pimps or traffickers with exposure to the police, so they could not be compelled.

This is a proposal for western countries, where I believe the laws against prostitution work AGAINST the victims of trafficking.

In 3rd-world countries, perhaps the legality of prostitution itself may not be the major issue.

Full disclosure: I've never been involved in prostitution, either as a "supplier" or "customer". So my opinion is based on my observations about how people work. I believe that prostitution is similar to drug abuse, in that it is a situation that is exacerbated by criminalization.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

petition so gladly signed!

Ahron E.
Ahron E6 years ago

This is a Saudi plot to bring down our morality. In Saudi Arabia slavery is still common so why not sell some of these slaves to the West.

faith v.
faith v6 years ago

A good friend of mine suggested, publish the names of all the customers.

That's if you seriously want to stop prostitution.

The neighbourhood which published photographs clearly collected some useful experience in this field.

And as someone else pointed out, make living financially possible so that women truly have a choice.

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

@ Richelle R OK if a man’s wife shares an interest in sex. This is not always, or perhaps even usually, the case, and the husband's hatred is a separate, unrelated issue..

Byron Mulder
Byron Mulder6 years ago

A big no-no in this day an age! Women should be seen as fellow human beings not men's personal toys

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago


Ellen Mccabe
Ellen m6 years ago

Either decriminalize it or start focusing only on the "johns".

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Well, if you really want to stop prostitution, don't arrest the prostitutes. Their morale usually is already so beat down that it doesn't matter if you lock them away. They probably appreciate the break as a temporary vacation and feel safer in jail... Just to go back to hooking to make money, most likely for a pimp who takes most of the money anyway.

If you want to stop prostitution, you need to arrest the pimps, if you can get the girls to talk, but because many are drug addicted and want the next high, may not talk because they'll lose their connection to drugs.

Go after the pimps first. And when the men who BUY the prostitutes get demeaned and made into monsters for cheating on their wives, mothers of their children, risking diseases to come home, etc... Believe me, they're pride will be so hurt, and the humiliation so bad, you'll end the demand.

The supply is already humiliated beyond care. Trust me when I say they appreciate the vacation in jail.