Flowers. Lit candles. Another shooting – this time in Atlanta. The shooter claims sex addiction. Others point out the racism and sexism. What I see is victims being victimized once again. Prostitution, or CSE (Commercial Sexual Exploitation) is a crime of the strong against the powerless. But it is even more twisted than that. Because, as many of my clients have explained to me, frequently the “satisfied” sex buyer turns violent after the act. I used to puzzle about that and wonder why. I have had the benefit of learning from my friend, Dr. Mary Anne Layden, who is a psychotherapist, and also the Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. As Mary Anne explained to me, prostitution is a toxic version of what should be an intimate and caring act. Therefore, even the buyer, who sought it out, feels disgusted afterward. Unfortunately, instead of channeling his disgust into changing his behavior, some sex buyers will treat their victims as the source of the problem and turn their disgust against them, in the form of violence.
As long as those in power continue to insist that the victims of prostitution are criminals, the buyers will continue to feel entitled, not just to use the victims sexually, but to also blame the victims for their own abuse.
One of my former clients, Rhonda*, has been shot, raped, stabbed, and dumped by the side of the road, left for dead. All of these acts were committed at different times by different buyers. Fortunately, she survived, and, with the help of sexual trauma recovery therapy, she has triumphed over CSE. Rhonda is a hero of mine because, despite everything she has been through, she remains a loving and caring person.
But CSE is dangerous because of the behavior of buyers, as well as the more highly publicized behavior of pimps. That’s why Dawn’s Place favors the so-called “Equality Model” of dealing with CSE. The Equality Model realizes the very real harm that buyers can do and seeks to eliminate demand for the sex trade. Finally, it must be noted that there are both gender and racial disparities in the commercial sex trade. Because of their subjection to combined forces of gendered and racialized oppression, women of color are overrepresented as victims and survivors of CSE. But all of these facts can’t help those victims in Atlanta. We need to change. *Not her real name. -Mary DeFusco, Esquire Dawn's Place President of the Board Director of Training, Defender Association of Philadelphia