Ambassador Swanee Hunt with President Jimmy Carter. Photo Credit: The Carter Center/Sarah Reif
ATLANTA – The campaign against sex-buying has a new champion. Former President Jimmy Carter has thrown his moral weight — and the organizational muscle of his Carter Center — behind the growing national movement to fight sexual exploitation by focusing on the buyers.
The Carter Center, a global force for human rights, convened a two-day summit with Rotary International on May 21-22 to develop new ideas for ending the sexual exploitation of women and girls. The 200 delegates included survivors of sex trafficking as well as police, prosecutors, business leaders, and activists.
Read Swanee Hunt’s op-ed, co-authored with President Carter in Politico.com
In his closing address, Carter placed the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men. He said he was speaking not only of the small number who buy sex but also the many who fail to raise their voices against the practice.
“The basic reason for its expansion and its continuation is that it’s accepted by men who don’t care if this exploitation continues,” Carter said.
“This entire problem is a blight on the human race,” he declared.
Carter presided personally over a closing session in which four working groups presented plans for action by business, legislators, survivors, and law enforcement. The business working group, for example, agreed to develop tools for training and awareness so that by 2025, at least half of all employees in the US work for companies that are addressing this issue with their workforce and their communities.
President Jimmy Carter with survivor leaders Shavonne Moore, Marian Hatcher, Vednita Carter, Audrey Morrissey, and Rebecca Bender.
Demand Abolition played a central organizing role. Many delegates came from the 11 cities that make up the CEASE Network (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation), launched earlier this year with support from Demand Abolition.
In her keynote address, Demand Abolition Chair Swanee Hunt challenged those who advocate legalizing prostitution because a few women claim it to be their choice. “You don’t form public policy around the exceptions when so much harm is being done,” Ambassador Hunt said.
Through the commercial sex industry, she added, “there is a coarsening of conscience that happens in our society — every single transaction of buying sex shapes our society.”
Ambassador Hunt said that by building the anti-demand movement, “You are giving men a chance to be men. We are building safer neighborhoods, but we are also awakening our empathy. If we do it right, without vengefulness, we are discovering our better selves as well.”
President Carter said the women and girls being trafficked for sex are already victims and should not be further victimized. He cited the “Nordic model,” which criminalizes the buyers, the traffickers, and the profiteers, as the key to ending sex exploitation. This approach provides services for women and girls to build new lives rather than criminalizing them.
Ziba Cranmer, executive director of Demand Abolition, said the summit has sharply accelerated the national movement to focus on those who are buying sex as well as profiting from the trade. She said the gathering was especially effective in mobilizing business allies.
Many speakers brought alive the harsh reality of sex-buying and the harm it causes.
- Survivor Rachel Moran said she was led into prostitution at the age of 15 in her native Ireland through homelessness and destitution. “Saying ‘no’ meant going back to the park bench,” she said. “You can’t talk about choice without talking about viable choice.”
- Sally Yates, the newly confirmed US deputy attorney general, said that in one Georgia case she prosecuted, 10 women were forced to have sex 30 times a night. The support group Tapestri helped them recover, and they testified against their traffickers. “We can’t expect these survivors to speak up unless we have the courage to speak out,” Yates said.
- Peter Qualliotine, a longtime Seattle activist who counsels sex-buyers, applauded Carter’s challenge to men. Qualliotine said sex-trafficking survivors often say to him that the groom at a bachelor party often would tell them, “I don’t want to do anything, but don’t tell the guys out there.” Turning to President Carter, Qualliotine said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for having the courage to tell the guys out there that this is not acceptable.”