Angelyn Bayless: Interview with a disruptor

Posted on Apr 3, 2017 in CEASE Network, Spotlight


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As part of our Spotlight Series, we’re interviewing leaders in the anti-demand and abolitionist movements. We recently spoke with Angelyn Bayless, Director of CEASE Arizona, who is responsible for coordinating state-wide efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex, including both law enforcement and civilian tactics.  She trains law enforcement both locally and nationally on innovative ways to disrupt sex buying and hold buyers accountable for their role in trafficking.

In this Q&A, Ms. Bayless tells us more about the successes and challenges of her work.

Q. What has been your biggest success working with the CEASE network?

We’ve succeeded in showing people that sex buyers are responsible for the sex trafficking problem in our state. Once you begin to paint a clear picture about the massive size of the sex-buying population, it is nearly impossible to ignore. Our successful “Not Worth It Campaign” in Arizona—which includes billboard messaging, radio public service announcements, and social media—has reached more than three million people.  We’ve recently started messaging directly to sex buyers on social media—where targeted video ads are delivered through Facebook news feeds and on Instagram.  In less than one month we were able to reach over 200,000 men ages 18-64, with 1,800 of them connected to accounts that have phone numbers that we know have contacted decoy ads online.

Q. When people ask what you do, what do you say?

My job is to try to end sex trafficking by going after the demand side of the problem, one buyer at a time. I explain that we’re laser-focused on ending sex buying, with the hope that one day we can truly see an end to the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and girls.

I began working in this field as a writer and researcher. I attempted to convey everything a person needed to know about sex trafficking in a simple and easy to understand format. The “What You Need to Know” series is used by professionals in mental health and general healthcare, probation, schools, child protective services, emergency services, and by parents who care about their kids’ safety. When I was working on those training materials, I kept wondering, “why aren’t all these groups putting their energy into ending demand?”

Q. What has been the biggest hurdle in your work?

It is easy to get frustrated that we have limited law enforcement resources to enforce the laws against prostitution. But I completely understand that jurisdictions must prioritize rescuing victims of sex trafficking or going after the pimps who are constantly recruiting and selling their victims online and on the streets.

This work is a long game—the problem will not go away overnight, or even in a few years. It is going to take a multi-sector approach that addresses the issue in all areas of society: families, healthcare, mental health and addiction, education and prevention, the criminal justice system, and even at workplaces and churches.

I spend a lot of time training and giving presentations in high schools and at colleges and universities. I am hopeful because the students seem to “get it” already.  I think we owe this in part to the anti-bullying and dating violence curriculum that are practically in all schools today.  Eventually the gap between older generations who think it is okay to buy sex and younger generations, who are shocked by the behavior, will widen to a tipping point where society as a whole shuns the idea.

Sexual exploitation is a complex problem. It requires a structured strategy that incorporates a mix of tactics to stop the behavior, empower the victim, and evolve our society’s understanding about the realities of prostitution.

Q. Do you think that collaboration has gotten better or worse in the movement?

For a long time, the movement had a common enemy: Backpage.com. Various actors united to shut the giant down. I hope we can all see the real enemy is bigger than Backpage; it’s a society that allows sexual exploitation to flourish.

In Arizona, collaboration is paramount to getting laws changed or laws enforced. Increases in  victim identification and public awareness about sex trafficking have resulted in better services for survivors and increased law enforcement focus on the issue.

People in our movement share the same vision—a world without sexual exploitation. As long as we all keep focused on that goal, we’ll find plenty of room for collaboration.

We’re beyond the normal rhetoric and arguments against prostitution. We are doing something about it, reaching the men who buy sex exactly where they do it…online. We are no longer preaching to the choir, but disrupting the transactions, and it’s actually working.

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are that of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Demand Abolition.

About the Spotlight Series
Across the world, people are doing powerful, innovative work to end prostitution and sex trafficking. Our Spotlight Series of blog posts features leaders in the anti-demand and abolitionist movements.We want to provide a showcase for these essential contributions to the fight against sexual abuse. The idea is simple: we’ll be asking people a few questions and publish their verbatim responses.

Read more in our Spotlight Series: Leaders in the Movement »

Do you know someone we should interview? Are there any questions you’d like us to ask? Please send your ideas to demand_abolition@huntalternatives.org.