The Most Important Things You Can Do to End Sex Trafficking
Valiant Richey started his career as a prosecutor, where he moved to the Special Assault Unit, handling sexual assault, child exploitation, and human trafficking cases for a decade. He now works for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an organization that works on security issues and human rights for 57 countries. Val is an ambassador for the organization, working with countries on how they can better combat trafficking. His extensive experience and work with so many countries give him unique insight into how consistent the patterns and functions of human trafficking are from country to country.
In this episode, Valiant talks about how trafficking is fed by a demand for people willing to pay for sex. He explains how sexually explicit material further drives the demand for sexual violence and sex trafficking and the connection between how victims are treated and their abusers’ use of pornography. Valiant discusses how rampant sex trafficking is and what we can do to address it on a macro level, as well as individual shifts in our perspective and attitudes towards sex buying can help decrease the demand for sex trafficking.
FROM THIS EPISODE
Today’s conversation is with Valiant Richie. Valiant started his career as a prosecutor where he moved to the special assault unit handling sexual assault, child exploitation, and human trafficking cases for a decade. He now works for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organization that works on security issues and human rights for 57 countries. Val is an ambassador for the organization working with countries on how they can better combat trafficking His extensive experience and work with so many countries, give him unique insights into how consistent the patterns and functions of human trafficking are from country to country. In this episode, Valiant talks about how trafficking is fed by demand for people willing to pay for sex, how sexually explicit material further drives the demand for sexual violence, and the connection between how victims are treated and their abuser’s use of pornography. Valiant discusses how rampant sex trafficking is and what we can do to address it on a macro level, as well as individual shifts in our perspectives and attitudes towards sex buying can help decrease the demand for sex trafficking. With that, let’s jump into the conversation. We hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming,
Fight The New Drug (01:19):
I guess to, to jump in really now, can you give, our listeners a little bit of background on how you got involved in working in the anti-trafficking space?
I, before coming to the OSCE, I was a prosecutor in Seattle, Washington for about 13 years, and I didn’t start as a prosecutor on trafficking. I started, as a prosecutor, as all prosecutors did back then, which was working, first of all in juvenile court and then in the drug unit. And, I really loved prosecution. And I remember at one point a supervisor who I liked a lot and respected, told me that the hardest unit anywhere in the office was not the homicide unit, but was the special assault unit, the SVU unit, because, the sex crimes and the assaults against children and so forth were so difficult. They were difficult to prosecute, they were difficult to investigate. They were hard emotionally. they were, were tr traumatizing, that that was really, if you wanted to do the most difficult cases and, and have tremendous impact, that was where you went.
And I remember that as a young prosecutor listening to that and thinking, I really wanted that challenge. And, you know, and it sounds kind of personal at that point, and I think it was, I was young and I was ambitious about trying to be the best prosecutor that I could. And so that’s why I went to that unit. And I went there and I ended up staying there for the next decade. And that was sort of unheard of. People went there for a year or two years, and then they moved to somewhere else, but I stayed for 10. And the reason is that it became much more to me than a place to go that had challenging cases. It became a place where I felt like, I really connected with people and I, and I helped try to stop some of the worst people I’d ever come into contact with, but also protect some of the most vulnerable. And it was in that context that I started working on cases that first involve children and sexual abuse, but later involved sexual exploitation and eventually trafficking of children. And, the rest is history.
Fight The New Drug (03:37):
Wow. well first of all, thank you. I think, I’m so grateful, and I’m sure many of you listening are so grateful that there are people like you in this world who are doing the work that you’ve been doing. So thank you for doing that. And can you talk with our listeners a little bit about, I know when you were in that unit, you did a lot of prosecuting of sex buyers. Can you talk a little bit about what you learned from that experience, as it relates to these issues as a whole?
I mean, it was really interesting because I didn’t go into that unit or even into that, that aspect of the unit, knowing that demand was a critical issue to work on, or knowing that the men buying sex were people who, could be really, really harmful. I didn’t think about them at all. I think I thought about them kind of like, a lot of men my age or my race or my economic background did, which is like, oh, those are kind of loser guys who buy sex, but who cares? But when I started working on trafficking cases and I started talking to survivors of them, to the victims who I was then prosecuting their traffickers, I started hearing from them about, who the men were that were buying sex from them, and that abused them during their exploitation.
And then I started working on cases that involved violent buyers. So I didn’t prosecute cases just against, sort of regular, sex buyers. I prosecuted men who tried to buy sex from children or men who committed sort of violent crimes in the context of sex buying, like rape or, or other crimes. and I saw the horrible, horrible violence and misogyny and racism and just sort of every aspect of that world wrapped up into one toxic cocktail. I saw all that play out. and it really influenced my thinking about who was to blame in all of this. And it wasn’t that I started thinking traffickers weren’t to blame, it’s that I realized traffickers were ultimately sort of a reactive mechanism to these men who were willing to pay for sex and then looked for any opportunity to abuse vulnerable people.
Fight The New Drug (06:08):
In your time doing that, did you, focus at all on people who would buy sexually explicit material online?
I prosecuted some people who, received or generated or distributed, child sexual abuse material. And there was times when that was commercialized, but many times when it wasn’t. as time passed and I started working more explicitly on the commercial sex industry, I, came into contact with many, many men who viewed a lot of pornography. Now, whether they paid for it or not, I don’t know, whether they paid for webcaming or not, I don’t know, but they viewed lots of it. And the reason I know that is because they either talked about it to the police or because we had evaluations done of them to see, to determine whether they were dangerous and needed additional treatment. because they had been caught, for example, in the context of trying to buy sex from a 15 year old. And we learned that there was, what I saw as a strong correlation between those who were willing to take the step to try to buy sex from a, a minor and, those who were strongly, or a abusively or addictively using pornography. And I saw that connection, just play out over and over and over again.
Fight The New Drug (07:48):
And I mean, knowing that consumption rates among young people are increasing, with technology and younger and younger people are being exposed to pornography, doing the work that you’ve done, what concerns do you have about the way that pornography is influencing this generation of young people?
I I think there’s a lot of, sort of difficult questions that need to be asked about. What’s the influence on the young mind or any mind really of pornography, especially considering the state of pornography today? what I mean by that is that, I worked on several cases that involved either child sexual abuse imagery, which is obviously per se, illegal and, and incredibly exploitative, but also some really, hardcore abusive pornography that as I, I don’t view pornography, but to my understanding as sort of mainstream now. And we found that in on computers that were used by sex buyers who were, raping and abusing and, and tying up and using, weapons on, people in prostitution. And, for example, I had a one, ca one case with a man who picked up a, a young woman off of the street, who was prostituting and kidnapped her and took her to a dungeon he had built and kept her there for 24 hours and, and did a lot of terrible things to her. and in the context of searching his home, a lot of really horrible and abusive and violent pornography was discovered. Again, I don’t know what the chicken and the egg is here because I’m not a psychologist. Just tell you that the correlation over and over again, you start to see a pattern.
Fight The New Drug (09:47):
So moving a bit from your work as a prosecutor into your work now with OSCE, how did you first get connected with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe? And, what work are you doing there now?
Well, it, it was a fairly, funny but totally non-glamorous way that I got connected, which was that I heard a guy, give a speech at our office in Seattle at the prosecutor’s office, about work that he was doing abroad on war crimes. And, my wife and I had been really interested in moving abroad at some point and giving our boys the experience of living abroad. And, so I started talking with him about what that might look like. And a couple weeks later, he found, this job on trafficking at the OSCE and I said, man, that sounds pretty good. And I applied for it and I got it. Wow. And so unseen, we moved to Vienna. And, and it was a great decision because it’s been really fascinating. my job there now is that I’m what’s called the special representative for combating trafficking in human beings.
It’s sort of, special envoy or quasi ambassador for the organization on the issue of trafficking. I, I lead the, the, I represent the organization at the political level on this. I talk to countries, I work with 57 countries, so if you don’t know the OSCE, let me explain that. It’s the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and it’s an organization that works on security issues in human rights for 57 countries from North America all the way to Russia and Mongolia. And we work on lots of things, elections and conflict prevention and, democracy and human rights. But one of the things we work on is human trafficking. And I oversee those efforts and I try to help countries do a better job in combating trafficking. So I’ve gone from sort of the micro level to the country, regional based level, and it’s a dramatic scaling up of, of the effort to combat human exploitation.
Fight The New Drug (11:52):
Wow. And what has maybe surprised you the most in that transition? Or what have you learned that’s, you know, maybe been the most surprising from that transition from kind of that micro to that macro level?
I mean, there’s so many things that have been interesting about the experience, from seeing the parallels in how human trafficking is conducted and plays out in country after country. I mean, it’s the same. It’s, it might be, yeah, a different, vulnerable group here, or a different race that’s exploited over here. But the, the patterns and the, and the functions and the purposes are very, very simil ar. The misuse of websites online, for example, to advertise people for sex, the way that buyers go online to find that, the way that it plays out on brothels, it’s, it’s very, very similar in a lot of countries. what has been a little bit surprising is how little all any of those countries devote, attention to demand. And I think that’s been one of the more sort of, let’s say, initially frustrating aspects is it’s, it’s a critical strategy in my view. It’s also required for international law that countries do address demand, and they often don’t. but I also see it as an opportunity, and that’s one of the areas that we’ve spent a lot of time, is to try to work on raising awareness around this need to address, demand, and talk about how to address it, what countries can do to, to do so and to, to make progress. And I think that’s been a really satisfying piece of this job is trying to move the needle on that.
Fight The New Drug (13:37):
Yeah, that’s great. And can you tell our listeners a little bit about what that looks like, how to address the demand and what some of those initiatives you’re pushing are?
Well, I think it to, to understand how to address it, it’s really important to talk about what demand actually means, because I think we hear that phrase sometimes, but we don’t often really understand. It’s like when people talk about the phrase sex work, they don’t actually sit down and think what that really is talking about. And what we mean by that is, is a, almost universally a man, although not exclusively, but almost universally, a man decides that he wants to pay somebody for sex. That’s a person that he doesn’t know usually, or maybe doesn’t know outside the context of paying for sex. He, he cannot know reliably whether that person is being exploited by a third party or exploited by circumstances. But he engages in paying for, he, he maybe goes online to look for that person and reviews lists of people like, like menu items on a, on a menu, restaurant menu on a website.
Select somebody calls that number, has no idea if that’s the same person that he just selected, has no idea if that person is over, 18 or not, because there’s no age verification or reliable regulation of those websites at all. Sets up some, rendezvous with the person sets up, a price meets that person, has sex with them, maybe does more than they were planning to do, or maybe plan to do something violent, something plays out, but they have sex and then it’s over and he goes away and he has no idea whether that was a rape that he just committed or something else. Right? That’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about single transactions here. We’re talking about tens and tens and hundreds of thousands and millions of transactions. Really a hundred billion dollars a year is generated off of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
At a hundred dollars a transaction, that’s a billion transactions per year, or 2000 a minute with trafficking victims. I’m not even talking about buying sex generally. We’re talking about 2000 transactions a minute with trafficking victims. That’s the scale what we’re talking about. So when I talk about, the reason I explain that is cuz that’s critical to understand what you do to respond to that, how do you stop something like that? And the way that you stop is by, a number of different ways, including starting with prevention, teaching young boys from an early age about what consensual sex and relationships actually look like, what gender equality looks like, why buying sex is inconsistent with those. There’s no way we’re gonna get to gender equality while also allowing prostitution. It’s not possible because one assumes the, subjugation of the other. Right? So talking with boys early, talking with college men about the connections between pornography and, and sexual violence and, and sex buying and so forth.
Engaging with employers to say, employers, your employees are doing this on their work time with your work computer, with the, your work identification. So you need to adopt a policy and prevent that from happening, talking with criminal, justice policy makers to ensure that if they go so far as to do it that they need to be held accountable. And then setting up education programs to try to prevent recidivism. That’s just a brief snapshot of the level of intervention that you need to try to stop something that is so huge that it is an a billion transactions a year. That’s what it takes.
Fight The New Drug (17:30):
Well said. And also, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I’m really grateful that you’re doing the work that you’re doing because this is so needed in the five years that you’ve been in Vienna doing this work. H how has this message been received by these countries you’re working with to address demand?
I would say it’s been mixed, but, but I think we’re making progress. And I think the reason it’s been mixed is because there’s this misperception that, the best way to help vulnerable people is to open up the prostitution industry to more prostitution. And that somehow that will make it safer. And the problem with that is it doesn’t make it safer, but the bigger problem with it is that it sets a principle that we really shouldn’t be following prostitution should not be a social welfare strategy, right? We shouldn’t be looking at prostitution as a way for vulnerable people to survive and, and accepting that it might be a way for people to survive right now, but we shouldn’t as society, as government, as a community be accepting that that’s the answer and sort of striving to make it as safe as possible under the assumption that that’s the way that people will survive.
We need to be talking about education and, and, real job training and language training or whatever it is that needs to be put in place, childcare, et cetera. Those social services need to be in place. You can’t rely on prostitution as a social welfare strategy. The second piece of that is that countries have been, countries that start looking at the problem of demand, become increasingly aware of how toxic it is and how badly they need to address it. So what we try to do is raise awareness around the problem and try to open their eyes to how it incentivizes trafficking that more demand actually isn’t better. It’s, it’s much worse because it incentivizes trafficking. And we found that once we start to have that conversation, increasingly countries are open to that conversation and we are starting to make progress.
Fight The New Drug (19:43):
Are there any other anti-trafficking initiatives that you’ve kind of been working to implement in addition to addressing demand in your time there that you wanna share?
Yeah, I wanna talk about one because I think it relates to a question you talked about earlier around the intersection between, pornography and, and commercial sex. And, it’s a really important case study because it also highlights the, the sort of critical role that demand plays in fostering exploitation. And it involves the Ukraine war, which may sound odd at first, but what happened when Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year is it caused the flight of about 8 million people, mostly women and children from the country towards Western Europe. Now most of us were all working to try to help keep them safe and to give them the resources they needed. We partnered with Thompson Reuters and what we found is that there was huge online spikes in searches for sexually exploitative terms like Ukrainian escorts, Ukrainian pornography, Ukrainian refugee porn, and Ukrainian rape.
And the spikes were 200 to 600% across multiple countries, multiple languages. So this was not restricted to England, for example, or to America was across many, many countries, but including England and America, but also Germany and Poland and Spain and so forth. And, what that means is that the first sort of response of men online to this vulnerability created by conflict was to think about how to sexually access these Ukrainians. Wow. And the reason that that’s so concerning is because traffickers know that and they will yeah. Put forward their best efforts to try to recruit those women and girls into the industry to meet that demand. So this case study shows and, and let, let me give you this fact cuz it’s stunning. Two months after we started registering those increases, we started tracking a bunch of efforts on chat rooms where Ukrainians were going to look for work and for accommodation.
We started re tracking recruitment efforts to try to get women and, and girls into webcaming escorting, meeting clients in clubs and so forth. Very, very shady and suspicious efforts. And six months after a company from the Netherlands called Web IQ reported a tenfold increase in the number of Ukrainians on sexual service, a websites from a year earlier tenfold Wow. Increase. So you can see in just six months from that explosion and demand online to the recruitment efforts to the increase in Ukrainian advertisements, you can see how demand incentivizes exploitation. Now why am I giving you this example? Because they weren’t just searching for Ukrainian prostitution, they were searching for Ukrainian pornography, Ukrainian refugee porn and Ukrainian prostitution. And there it was all a big package and Ukrainian rape, by the way, which there were thousands and thousands of views of videos that purported to have rapes of Ukrainians, but that they, there was a huge spike in these terms as clusters, right. And it shows how this whole sort of topic of various forms of sexual exploitation come together into a toxic cocktail as I referred to earlier, and plays out and incentivizes the exploitation and third party exploitation of vulnerable people. This case study was so critical for us to understand how this thing plays out intersections between all these different forms of violence. It’s really, really upsetting. But it was important for us to understand how we need to respond to these crises in the future.
Fight The New Drug (23:37):
I think adding to that, are there other ways that technology and platforms like only fans even are kind of fueling, you know, capitalizing off of these moments of vulnerability for different people and then further fueling these issues across countries?
Well obviously the, the anytime that the industry, the website or the platform is built around the sexual services industry, it’s going to be chockful of exploitation. Yeah. Because they’re not regulated adequately at all. They don’t conduct meaningful, prevention measures meaningful age or consent verification. They do, some do try to put in some minor amount of prevention efforts, but we haven’t seen that play out. yeah, more mainstream social media platforms I think have put in some efforts at doing it. But we have seen exploitation across all different kinds of platforms. And, what that means is that much more needs to be done, much more proactive work needs to be done, but particularly in those websites that cater to the sexual services industries like pornography, like sexual services, those sites where the highest risks exist need to have the most rigor in the work that they are doing. And yet we are seeing the opposite. We are seeing the least efforts being made to try to make sure that the people on there are not being exploited or that it is not incentivizing abuse. And that’s a real problem.
Fight The New Drug (25:09):
And unfortunately it seems like technology is just progressing so quickly that it’s, difficult for anyone to keep up with this, but especially these platforms that aren’t putting much effort into those safeguards.
I mean, I think that’s a factor, but frankly I don’t think it’s a good enough explanation because the policy Yeah. Responses exist. What is missing, and this is something that I I think has been a real realization of my time at the OSCE, is that the solutions are there, but the political will is lacking. And number one ingredient for our success in combating and ending human exploitation is not a new tech tool, is not, coming up with an idea for a law. It’s having and building and harnessing and sustaining the political will to make the tough decisions and to actually take action. Those laws exist. Israel, for example, has a great law that allows them to block websites that are being used for prostitution or child sexual abuse imagery. They use it all the time. It’s very effective and efficient, and yet other countries don’t have the same law put into place. That’s an easy solution. And, and so I, I think you’re right in some sense that tech moves fast, but I don’t think it’s moving faster than we can respond to. It’s just a question of political will. This is a human problem with a human solution and we need to mobilize.
Fight The New Drug (26:37):
What are some things that you would like people to know about the sexual exploitation industry generally?
I have never seen any scenario under which that industry can be made safe and has been made safe. I think that there is a hope that that’s possible for some people, and I just can’t see that happening. And so I think the way that the way forward is to create a world in which it’s not, desired. And, the number one engine behind all of this, and this really was a lesson I learned from my time at the prosecutor’s office. The, the huge engine behind all of this is men and, men’s desire to sexually access people or to view pornography or to bi sex or whatever it is. and they’re acting on it at a scale that then creates a whole market and the market becomes self-fulfilling because then they view more than they want, more than they view, more than they want more.
And it’s really compulsive. And, the more I saw that, the more I thought, that there is not a way to make this work in a safe way. And I’m not sure that there is a social value into trying to figure out a way to make it work in a safe way. Yeah. so that, that’s been a real tough challenge. now a lot of people would say that we can’t do anything about that. That’s how men are. And I completely disagree with that. 85% of men don’t buy sex, right? Everybody wants to say 15% of men buy sex. Yeah, that’s a lot. That’s a ton of men, but 85 don’t. And if those 85% told the other 15%, this is stupid, you shouldn’t do this. Instead of turning a blind eye or high fiving casually, it would end. The, the other thing I learned is that a lot of, sex buyers, they have a lot of issues.
They, it’s often presented as sort of this, you know, oh, boys will be boys having a good time kind of thing. But we met so many men in the course of, of the prosecution, work that we did. So many men that were just broken, and they would describe, like, one guy described it to the cop as a sickness that he couldn’t stop and he hated it and he felt terrible, but he was just, he couldn’t stop it. And, that does not sound like a good thing that we should be figuring out how to make safe. That sounds like a really toxic behavior that we need to stop.
Fight The New Drug (29:41):
Well said. And those are kind of addressing some misconceptions about sex buyers. Maybe can you talk a little bit about some general misconceptions about sex trafficking?
Well, a big misconception about sex trafficking is that it all looks like the movie taken. That, that your daughter is gonna get kidnapped and taken to, you know, the Balkans and tied to a bed with chains. And Sure, I’m, I’m 100% confident that happens, but most of it is not, does not look like that. it looks like vulnerable, desperate people making really shaky decisions because they don’t feel like they have options that they know could be a big risk. But they do anyway because that’s what they can do. And then it turns out badly and it starts, gradually and then it goes suddenly, and then they can’t get out. And we see that happen over and over and over again. And the reason that that’s tough is because people want to think that trafficking is just violence and kidnapping. And often it’s much more subtle than that. It’s coercive behavior that really preys on somebody’s deepest vulnerabilities and, and fears and misuses those and brainwashes people into submission. And it’s very pernicious and sort of, poisonous in that way. yeah. But it’s much harder to see. And, and so trafficking is, can be really subtle and in fact, most trafficking is much more subtle than, than the stuff you see in the movies. And that makes it tough to explain to people.
Fight The New Drug (31:38):
We hear that a lot. we, you know, a lot of people’s expectation of sex trafficking is that it looks like the movie taken. So I think that’s a very helpful explanation of those misconceptions.
I think another thing to, to, to counter is the perception that men are trafficked for labor and women are trafficked for sex. Yes, both of those things are true, but they’re not a hundred percent true. And what I mean by that is that we see lots of women who are exploited in labor, and we see lots of men and, and other genders who are exploited in, in sex. And the best way to look at that is to go on the sexual service websites where they have categories for all different kinds of people. Any yeah. Kind of person that you can think of, are being advertised on those sites. And what that shows is, is that the, the common denominator is, and the common perpetrator is men, because men are the ones buying all those people. And those two facts mean that the, that the person we really need to be focused on throughout all of this is the person incentivizing that exploitation and causing that exploitation.
Fight The New Drug (32:58):
Obviously you’re working on these issues at an international level working with these countries, but are there things that individuals can do to help combat? I know we’ve talked a little bit about some of this education educating men and boys, but are there things individuals can do to help combat sex trafficking?
Don’t buy sex. It’s the number one thing. And, and, it’s, the fascinating thing about sex buying is unlike selling sex where you have no idea if that person had a choice or not, buyers always have a choice. And so the number one thing to do is not buy sex. The second thing to do is don’t encourage sex, buy sex buying, or don’t turn a blind eye to sex buying. So if your friends are doing it or if people wanna start talking about doing it, really ask some tough questions and maybe, discourage that, that kind of conduct. The third thing that I think is, a really important piece is to try to contribute to community or social norms that cut against that kind of activity. And one of the best places to do that is at the workplace. And this, I don’t mean you need to go in and be like a social advocate pounding on the coffee machine or something, and passing out flyers.
I’m saying like, don’t contribute to or propose or, or, advocate for events that encourage sort of misogynistic perspectives on, on the world. we’ve heard about, companies having parties with Gogo dancers or escorts, you know, we, we all know what that means. That, you know, discouraging that I think is a baseline baseline, but also encouraging your company to have a code of conduct that may, that that prohibits any kind of engagement in that activity. It’s good for the company because it reduces the risk of liability, reduces the, the reputational risk that undoubtedly will happen. Nobody cares that it was Joe Smith who was caught buying sex. They care that it was Joe Smith from Google or Joe Smith from Amazon or Joe Smith from Walmart. That’s much more newsworthy. And so the company really needs to adopt a serious policy that prohibits that. And, and along with that is the appropriate training of people about that policy.
When you are a new employee and you’re handed a, a giant book of a thousand rules and they say, yeah, don’t break any of these. I mean, nobody’s gonna, but if you have a course around saying, look, this is serious and we don’t allow this, and I don’t care if you are in a country on behalf of us where it’s legal, don’t engage in it. And the reason you don’t engage in it is cuz you have no idea if the person on the other side of that transaction is a trafficking victim and you’re raping her or might be a child and you’re raping her, you don’t know. Yeah. Don’t do it because the risk is just too high. those kinds of, of policies at your company and the training on those policies are really important to trying to create an environment that is really, I would say, inhospitable to those types of toxic norms that are contributing to this conduct.
Fight The New Drug (36:27):
Thank you. I think sometimes these issues can feel so large that as an individual it feels like maybe there’s not a lot we can do, but, you’re so right. There are lots of things we can do to help shift the culture and, you know, stop the normalization of this type of cultural norm, I guess around us. So thank you so much.
May add something there actually.
Fight The New Drug (36:48):
Yes, of course.
So the, a good example, because a lot of people have trouble wrapping their minds around this. They’re like, well, my husband doesn’t buy sex, or my brother doesn’t buy sex, or I don’t buy sex. Like, that sounds crazy. How, why is that even an issue for me? And the analogy that I think is helpful is, is talking about smoking, right? Smoking didn’t decline precipitously in the United States because we went out and prosecuted a bunch of people who smoked cigarettes, right? It wasn’t, but what we did is we did high school education, we did, medical, training. We did time, place, manner restrictions, so you couldn’t do it here, there anywhere. We, we funded at a massive level programs to try to prevent this. Parents all taught, they learn more and then they told their kids about it and they said, don’t do this.
It’s really harmful. All of those things, all of those things were done at a huge society based level and it went down. It works, right? Yeah, it works when you have that society based, intervention. And that’s the kind of thinking that whole community approach that I described earlier where you’re talking about early education and awareness and engaging the medical sector and the business sector. If you do all of that, I think you can change as you, as you said, the cultural norm around whether this is okay or not. Now, when it comes to the commercial sex industry, you also need to have a criminal justice component because actually going through with the act is really harmful to people. And it needs, it needs to be held accountable plus the, the criminal justice laws help contribute to that social norm by saying, this conduct is not okay. And I, and I think you put all that together, you start to see the full package and, and smoking can be a way that people can say, oh yeah, I kind of get how that all worked together and, and why that works. And then you can sort of transfer that over to this problem of men buying sex.
Fight The New Drug (38:46):
I think that’s a helpful analogy. Thank you. And I, you know, at Fight The New Drug since our founding in 2009, our listeners who are here, you know, we focus on the harmful effects of pornography. So we’re kind of looking at that one portion of this, you know, entire web of sexual exploitation issues. And, a big part of why we focus on education and awareness is to change that conversation. And in, you know, over the last decade we’ve seen the conversation changing. We’ve seen that it can make a difference, but we also see that there’s still a lot of work to be done and it takes everyone to kind of step up and, and do what we can individually to help make these changes. similarly to what happened with smoking,
I think that awareness is so critical and building that sort of collective understanding of the consequences of behavior and the consequences of acts. I think that’s really important.
Fight The New Drug (39:41):
I mean, some of this, you know, it can feel daunting and heavy to address these issues. How do you individually stay kind of hopeful, but also in the work that you’ve done with OSCE in the past few years, and you’re wrapping up now, what, what hope are you moving forward with and what hope can we kind of give people to know that, you know, if they do address these issues there, there will be change and there is a possible future where we are no longer normalizing, sexual exploitation?
Well, I, I mean, I think the first thing is that we’ve seen this work on so many other topics, right? Well, I was just having a conversation the other day with somebody about seat belts. Do you remember when nobody wore seat belts and people actually got it outrageous, an infringement of their freedom to make them wear seat belts. Now basically everybody wears a seatbelt cuz they realize it’s a smart thing to do. But that didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time. And the reality is, is that eventually the culture changed and now the perspective of not wearing a seatbelt, like it’s kind of crazy. And, or domestic violence. There was a time when domestic violence was viewed as just a matter for the home or sexual harassment. Of course, you can smack the butt of somebody who works in your office. Why, why couldn’t you?
That used to be the sort of framing, right? And now it’s completely impossible to imagine that that’s allowed in the workplace. Times can change, culture can change. And so my view of of this problem is that this is a human problem made of human choices. Whether you’re a trafficker choosing to exploit somebody, your sex buyer or choosing to make, a purchase that is contributing, it’s a choice. It’s all choices. This is not an earthquake or a typhoon that we have control over. It’s entirely something that we can control, but we just have to make the choices, which means that we can influence those choices through culture. And we have shown time and time again that we can influence those choices through these other examples I just was giving you. So what we, what what gives me hope is that it’s possible to make that change.
And once you address that, once you start to wrap your mind around the, the idea that ending human exploitation is in fact possible, then it just becomes a question of strategy and tactics. And what we’ve spent a lot of our time around is first of all, opening people’s mind to the possibility despite the huge scale, the huge, huge scale, 25 million victims, 150 billion a year, the scale is incredible. But if you open your mind to the possibility of change, and you open your mind to strategies that have been shown on a micro level to work in different ways, and that you can put those together into a global plan, then you start to see that ending, this thing is possible. And that is what carries me forward. And that is the thing that I think, is going to move us from simply responding to or trying to address, human trafficking to ending it. And that’s, that’s my ultimate goal.
Fight The New Drug (42:54):
Yeah, I think that’s really inspiring and helpful. So thank you. Before we wrap things up, is there anything else that you wanna share, that we haven’t talked about yet?
I wanna say something that not everybody agrees with me on, but, but I think is important, and I, and I, when I say people don’t agree with me, I think it’s usually, at first they don’t agree, but once they listen for a minute, then they often come around. But, I talked a lot about prosecuting sex buyers and the, the problems that they cause that many of them can be violent. In fact, the statistics show that, contrary to popular beliefs about trafficking, most of the harm suffered by people in, in prostitution is from buyers, not from traffickers. and in fact, a large part of that harm is actually suffered from familiar buyers. So this concept of the good buyer is really a myth as well. Contrary, or, or keeping that in mind, I think it’s really important to emphasize that I do not believe that, buyers are inherently bad people, or that the answer here is to shame them into a different way of being. I feel quite the opposite. In fact, as I said before, many buyers are broken, are going through bad things in life. And their terrible socialization as men, starting from when they were boys, boys, their terrible socialization has led them to a really incomplete toolbox on how to deal with life’s problems.
And they start to believe that the only way they can solve problems is through anger or violence or sex and over and over again. And so they go out and they buy sex to try to solve those problems in their life, to try to feel better about things. And in fact, what they need is help. And, time and time again, I think this is a, a, a misnomer in the field that these men are sort of called out as, as predators. And, and that allows us to isolate them from ourselves and to set them aside as somebody who’s a, a horrible human being that we, we shouldn’t have any humanity towards, because that makes us feel okay instead of saying, you know what, they’re, they’re pretty close to us and maybe they need some help, because they’re probably hurting and they’re probably trying to fix it in this really, really bad way.
and we should engage with them. And I learned a lot of that from a guy I worked with in Seattle named Peter Quine. He was a fantastic, man who thought a lot about this issue and worked with tons of sex buyers. And he really helped me understand that, there, there needed to be more intervention with men and to show men that there’s a better way of being in the world. And I think what I, the reason I want to emphasize this is I wanna highlight the idea that the ultimate goal here should be to present a positive view of what men can be doing rather than to focus on calling out negative behaviors of men constantly. And I think there’s a way forward there, it’s a difficult way forward. but it’s a crucial one, and it’s one I wanted to emphasize because too often we get stuck on this sort of naming and shaming approach, and it’s not an effective way to build, I think positive behaviors.
Fight The New Drug (46:26):
Yeah, I would agree. And you know, we know that plenty of research shows that shame doesn’t motivate healthy change. Guilt can help, but shame typically doesn’t, it often leaves someone in the same spiral. So I think if our ultimate goal is to solve these issues and end these issues, then we have to be willing to help heal and rehabilitate, the people on all sides of these issues. So I think that’s really important to acknowledge. Thank you.
That’s based on my personal experience that I’ve just seen, you know, hundreds of these guys coming through the door and you start to see patterns and it really corroborates what, what you just said.
Fight The New Drug (47:03):
We look at that research a lot dealing specifically with the harms of pornography, because we know that individual is struggling with pornography consumption or even addiction to pornography. Shame does not help motivate healthy change for them typically. And so that’s something that, you know, Brene Brown and others have done lots of amazing research on. But I do think it’s really important to acknowledge as often as possible when addressing all of these issues because it, it does require focus kind of everywhere to, to address. So thank you.
The problem too, you know, is that if you, if you create a social norm that condones sex buying, you’re essentially condoning that as a response to the challenges that these men are facing. And you’re saying, yes, you’re, you’re facing difficulties in life and it is okay when you’re feeling that way to go out and buy sex from this person who you might be raping and, and go ahead because we as society are saying that’s acceptable and it’s actually just compounding the sort of, yeah, openness of that experience of that person. And I think that’s a, a really tragic, outgrowth of that approach.
Fight The New Drug (48:16):
Well, Val, thank you so much for the work that you do. unless there is anything else that you would like to share or anywhere that, our listeners can go to further learn about the work you’re doing or support you, we can go ahead and wrap things up.
Yeah, you can see right here behind me, osc.org and on there you can find the, the page for, human trafficking and for my office in particular, the Office of the Special Representative. And on there, there’s, topics on a whole bunch of things on trafficking, but in particular on the issue of demand. And we’ve put out some really, forward-leaning papers around the problem of demand and how to address it. And, a lot of those discuss also, the use of pornography websites for exploitation and so forth. So take a look and hopefully it’ll be of interest to you, and don’t buy sex.
Fight The New Drug (49:14):
Thank you so much. That’s OSCE.org. for any listeners and thank you so much, Val Richie, for your time today and for the work that you’re doing. We’re so grateful.
Thanks so much for having me. It was a real pleasure talking with you all.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug. Fight The New Drug is a non-religious and a non legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects, using only science, facts and personal accounts. Check out the episode notes for resources mentioned in this episode. If you find this podcast helpful, consider subscribing and leaving a review. Consider Before Consuming is made possible by listeners like you. If you’d like to support, Consider Before Consuming, you can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount at ftnd.org/support. That’s F-T-N-D.O-R-G/support. Thanks again for listening. We invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your plant spots, and consider before consuming.
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