Last week I came across an interesting post on the Ms Magazine blog. It talks about the importance of naming grievances if social change is to take place. For example, before “sexual harassment” was an official term, it was seen as normal for men to grope, gawk at, and insult women in the workplace. Before “date rape” was coined, people generally did not acknowledge such a violation as rape if the person was in a romantic relationship with the victim. Creating a term for such occurrences made it easier to fight for rights in the legal realm and have generally shaped our view of appropriate behaviour in varying contexts.
Based on this, Ms Magazine has taken on the challenge of creating a term for men who buy sex from young girls. Until now, we use terms such as pedophile, pervert, John, patron, client, and rapist. But these are all quite general and some (like John and patron) even have a positive connotation. Several readers sent in their suggestions, and the picture below shows the terms that resonated with people the most. The bigger the letters, the more popular the term. If you check out the comment section under the first blog post, you can read some very interesting points that people raise about this issue.
I personally feel a bit torn. On one hand I believe that it is important to name the crimes that are being committed against children. Terms like “client,” “patron,” and “John” need to be phased out if we are to take this issue seriously. It has always bothered me that men are labeled with such neutral and professional terms while the women are called hookers and whores. But another part of me sees a potential danger in slapping a label on someone, because it may be a label they feel they can never escape and lead to more criminal behaviour.
Call me naive or over-optimistic, but I believe that for some men who have bought sex from young girls, there is hope for change. The current justice system, in which these men are put behind bars (sometimes in isolation), for several years, is broken and needs to be revamped. Yes, punishment is absolutely necessary. Yes, they have forfeited rights and privileges by hurting another person. But after being in a prison cell for 10 years with no counselling, healthy community, or positive role models, what do you think one of these guys will do the moment he gets out? For many, jail has merely been a time to formulate even more sick fantasies.
I don’t know what restorative justice could look like in regard to men who pay for sex with kids. I think that instead of creating a label for these men that could become a permanent part of their identity (which could lead to more problems down the road), we should label the crimes themselves. “Date rape” and “sexual harassment” are examples of this approach. In the meantime, however, we must not let these men off the hook for the crimes they have committed.
If you had to choose, what term in the picture resonates with you the most? What do you think about creating a label for men who pay for sex with children? Do you think restorative justice is a hopeless idea? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks Ms Magazine for bringing up such a relevant and important topic.