A conversation on Twitter got my attention a while ago. Using the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women shared incredible and awful stories of ways in which they had been harassed, marginalized, ridiculed, leered at and exploited by men.
Yes, all women.
Soon the conversation changed, and people began to respond with #NotAllMen hashtags. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are addicted to pornography. Not all men pay for sex. Not all men disrespect and degrade women.
No, not all men.
This letter is for you: the not-all men. And I'm writing to say We Need You. And, Please Help.
January is National Trafficking Awareness Month, and I am just beginning to uncover how close to home some very dark things are. Vulnerable women and children are being trafficked in our neighborhoods: they are preyed on and prostituted, and I didn't know that so many of those who seem to be prostitutes are, in fact, victims who are drugged, manipulated and abused to be there.
Economics 101 teaches us that supply meets demand. This is true in the sex industry too. I didn't know (and maybe you didn't either) that the primary demographic of those buying sex are white, middle-class, well-educated, white-collar workers. Women and children are being trafficked to supply the demands of the very people society deems to be the most respectable.
But not all men are like that, which is why we need your help.
If you are a man who is white, or middle-class, or well-educated, or white-collar (or any combination of those descriptions), then you have a voice with these men that I don't. You may not know who they are, exactly, but they're among the every day guys at work, in class, at the gym, at the game. They're the guys on the golf green, at the bar, and at your business conference.
Women talk differently around women than when men are around, and men talk differently around men than when women are around. When women are around, men are less likely to suggest a couple of hours of entertainment at a strip club, or to make lewd remarks about how they'd like to "see her naked."
Perhaps you hear men around you talk like that, and you find it uncomfortable. It might be funny, but it's not who you are - so you say nothing. You let it go, finish your drink, and make your way home. I want you to know first of all that I really respect you not taking them up on the invitation.
But I am writing to ask you to do more. I'm asking you to please speak up and take a stand that it's not okay to speak to women or about women like that. To point out that the massage parlor or gentlemen's club they're suggesting probably has trafficked women or children working there - did they know that? To say that prostitution may not mean what they think it means. To say you've heard some stories from women who worked the streets and it has changed your opinion on what was really going on there.
But maybe you don't even need to say that much. A man saying something like "hey, that's not cool," in response to a "guy's joke" might not seem like much, but it means so much.
If you stay silent, you may have protected your own character in that situation, but your silence is interpreted as indifference. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," wrote Bonhoeffer. The sex trafficking industry relies on secrecy to thrive, and when we fail to say something, we allow it to keep its secrets. Our silence become complicity.
Please, don't let the sexist joke go unchallenged.
Please, don't let the guy next to you jest about "showing her who's boss" without speaking up.
Please, don't stay silent when someone makes a "movie suggestion". The line between pornography and trafficking is a very thin one.
Please, if you are on a business trip and are invited out for an evening of entertainment, don't just say "no thanks" and walk away. Say, "You shouldn't go either." Perhaps even invite them to do something else.
There are men in our communities who are predators and pedophiles. But not all men are like that. You are not like that. So I'm asking you: will you please be our protectors? Would you be a voice of conscience to the men around you?
For my sake. For my daughters sake. For all the #YesAllWomen,
Please, speak up.
We need you.
This post appeared as part of the #ACourageousOne series, featuring art and stories to raise awareness about sex trafficking locally and abroad. Find out more about what you can do to end trafficking in your neighborhood here.