From the Defenders USA archives:
We were looking around the table at each other in states of disbelief and shock at what we had just seen and heard.
We had been through a day where we had seen the actual bartering and eventual sale of a 15 year old by a trafficker getting $400 an hour for her body. He offered the human rights investigator 5 girls total to pick from, all between 14-17 years of age, this transaction captured on a button camera. Not in a foreign country, but in Atlanta, Georgia.
We heard that there are hundreds of thousands of young girls forced into the commercial sex industry every year. While many are photographed and sold at tourist destinations or to convention goers, most are sold to local guys traveling less than an hour from their own children and home, driven to satisfy there fantasy fueled by online pornography. We heard from the Cyber Crimes Unit of the FBI, as well as Homeland Security, alarming statistics of large numbers of ordinary men starting a secret life of pornography viewing that quickly inflames to using child pornography — then large numbers acting out their fantasies with younger and younger girls.
We knew we had to do something, but what?
We had learned a lot at the evaluation in Washington DC, but where do we start fighting back in a battle that is taking prisoners and leaving casualties of thousands of husbands, brothers, and fathers whose lives are destroyed from the aggressive pornography industry?
Shared Hope International was commissioned to co-host the U.S. Mid-Term Review on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in America in order to evaluate best practices, gaps in current efforts, and challenges faced in the field. The Mid-Term Review was conducted in two stages. The first stage collected reports from the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services as well as 35 Non Government Groups around the United States with an analysis of their respective programs, funding availability, challenges, and perspectives on the issue. The second stage consisted of the conference held April 3-4, 2006 in Washington DC which brought together government agency representatives, law enforcement officials, academics, private industry representatives, and NGO leaders in a structured discussion of the trafficking, prostitution, pornography, sex tourism and supply and demand of children.
Founder of Shared Hope International, Former Congresswomen Linda Smith, noted that it became clear during the first stage survey collection that while there were numerous programs addressing the victims of commercial sexual exploitation and service creation for victims, there was a severe lack in two areas: Prevention and Demand. There was virtually no focus on deterring the client from entering the market.
It was then that Shared Hope International began gathering a core alliance of men from around the Country to explore how best to fight the battle of a growing demand for younger and younger girls. This demand is coming from ordinary American men.
Our first planning sessions were April 3-4, each evening following the daily work at the conference in Washington, DC. Shared Hope International invited us to listen in as experts from over 100 civil society groups and 4 government agencies gathered to discuss the threat and scope of child exploitation for profit in the United States. This foundation of knowledge on the issues surrounding commercial sexual exploitation such as child prostitution, child trafficking, child pornography and child sex tourism served as an impetus for action from The Defenders. This momentum sparked an intense debate on how this group of men could make any impact. The battle seemed too big, but at the end of the evening the question became, ‘What would you do if this was your daughter?’
And so the solution became clear – it is imperative that we impede demand by ‘DEFENDING AND PROTECTING ALL MEN’S DAUGHTERS’. Men are not living up to their natural role – the role of protector and defender. It was here that the concept of The Defenders was born – Calling on men to defend themselves, each other, and the children of America against the harms of the commercial sex industry.
The first set of goals identified by The Defenders were:
• To raise public awareness of the harms of buying sex, and of pornography use, to both the victim and the buyer or user.
• To encourage public discussion on the issue of how “normal” it has become to buy younger and younger children, as evidenced by the growing number of children being drawn into prostitution at age 11 and younger.
• To challenge civil society groups including faith-based organizations and churches to provide refuge and services to the victims and the victimizers, who both believe they are now totally unacceptable to society.
• To establish a website which links individuals to resources currently available and which connects people who want to join the fight.
• To make available the resources needed by a man who wants to help a friend or co-worker caught in the web of sexual exploitation, or to a man who wants to make a presentation on the subject to a group, or to get help himself.
The Defenders planned to execute these goals by:
• Produce and air 60- and 30-second TV commercials to air on networks like CNN, FOX, and ESPN. Target: men 25-55.
• Produce and air 10 and 30-second radio spots.
• Create The Defenders website. Involve men in standing up to protect women and children. Discourage men from viewing pornography and using children and provide resources and help to those currently stuck in addiction and wanting help.
Each of us has taken the pledge and made a commitment to ourselves, each other and our nation’s children. We acknowledge that the battle is growing every minute and that this is just the beginning. Most importantly, we need you.
You can make the difference in the life of a child. Please join us and become a Defender today.