By Dawn Hawkins, National Center on Sexual Exploitation
Two years ago, I spoke at a press conference on the sexual objectification of girls through mainstream mediums like Cosmopolitan Magazine. I returned to the office high on adrenaline from a successful and well-covered event and then got two calls that changed my perspective greatly.
THE PHONE CALLS
The first was a young man in his late twenties serving in the Army who thanked us for our work but said he watched our press conference online and was concerned because it seemed that we were only talking about the sexual exploitation of women and girls. He pointed out that we had quite a few important campaigns and that we were doing a lot of good, but that we were missing a really important point. He encouraged us to speak more deliberately about the sexual exploitation of boys and men. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and then someone who had been sexually harassed in the Army, which he attributed to a problem culture in the military, he explained that we must help shed light on these issues. He went on to tell me about other men he knew who were sex trafficked as teenagers when they ran away from home.
I knew he was right. We needed to make sure that we were addressing the full spectrum of sexual exploitation to all people, regardless of gender.
About an hour later we got another call, this time from a young boy in high school. I was surprised to hear that he too had watched our press conference online that day. He explained to me that the messages in Cosmo weren’t only impacting young girls, but also deeply affecting young men too. He shared that his ex-girlfriend had brought Cosmo to him on a few occasions to share “sex tips” and stories and that she asked him to do some of the things she read in the magazine. This was a game changer for me. Honestly, I have thought more about how men are using pornography to pressure women into degrading or uncomfortable sex acts, but I never really thought about how women are also doing the same to men. I was so impressed by the courage of this young man to speak up and am quite sad that my initial reaction was one of surprise and disbelief. I realized that even I have internalized some of the male stereotypes and biases portrayed in our pop culture. This young man and I talked for a long time and he explained what it is like for him to grow up in a hypersexualized world with a constant barrage of images depicting what it supposedly means to be a man. He felt that this was impacting his identity, goals, and self-esteem in negative ways.
By the time I hung up the phone with him, I knew that God was trying to tell me something about what NCOSE should be doing!
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has sought to shed light on the sexual exploitation of boys and men in a more deliberate way. In addition to more articles and social media awareness, we also started a taskforce within the NCOSE-led Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation. We brought together survivors, academics, medical professionals, and other non-governmental organizations. In a series of strategy meetings, we have gathered messaging tips for the movement and have ensured that the overall movement does not ignore this issue. It is time to elevate this issue though, even more. To do this, we have three-days of public events planned in September.
Our events, titled, Out of the Shadows: Addressing the Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Men include a press conference at the National Press Club on September 7th. We must get the media to address all of these issues in a more deliberate way! We are also hosting a ground-breaking National Symposiumon September 8th, bringing together more than 200 DC-area leaders to educate and start them on a critical assessment of this overlooked problem. On September 9th, we will host workshops with college students at Washington College.
Nothing like any of these events have ever been held before and it promises to be transformative for the entire movement and for the millions of males who are struggling with these issues in the dark!
These events, especially the National Symposium, will serve to shed a light on the victimization of boys and men, in order to bring these problems out of the shadows. The complex web of sexual exploitation cannot be dismantled until every survivor has a voice.
Many boys and men are silent victims of sexual exploitation, in various forms including child sexual abuse, prostitution, and human trafficking, but also with the loss of innocence given early exposure and sometimes addiction to pornography or even our hypersexualized, highly objectified culture. We are bringing it out of the shadows!