It starts with boys: A poem and essay about ending sex trafficking

The following is a poem and essay I wrote for my graduate school’s course in human rights. We have been studying the conditions of young women and girls who are trafficked around the world for sex and efforts underway to end this human rights problem. Most of them start with the women themselves, but I believe we need to take a different, additional approach.

This may be a difficult read, but if you’re interested in human rights, education, ending domestic violence and a culture that oversexualizes women and treats them as objects rather than people, it’s worth it.
The poem:

60 to 101 missing women worldwide (Kristof and WuDunn, 2009, p. xv)

Kidnapped, Taken

Becoming a supply of women

To serve the demands of men


Who pays the money?

For the girls with no choice

But to sell their bodies

Forced to smile and please


It’s the men

Buying time

Until they marry

At age 30 (Kristof and WuDunn, 2009, p. 24)


The girls and women

Are considered inferior to those men

Yet worthy of collaborating

In the most intimate act between two bodies


Supply, demand

To end the cycle of sexual slavery

The demand must dry up

It starts with teaching boys


Boys must learn to treat girls

With respect

That girls and women

Do not exist only for their pleasure and service


The culture must change

Boys must grow into men

Who can control their own impulses

Who can think before they act and cause harm


Boys and men could take the credit

For ending the sex slave trade

If only they are willing to do the work

That starts with them


Those men that reject the status quo

Should be touted as brave

They not only speak up for girls and women’s rights to freedom

They will show empathy and genuine concern


Until there is more education for boys

That undermines

Both a violent and oversexualized attitude

We are fighting a fight that cannot be won


While reading Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half The Sky, which details various ways women are deeply oppressed around the world and the attempts to improve or end some of these conditions, I could not help but continue to return to the idea that boys and men need to step up and do their part more than anything. If the oppressive violent and sexual behavior of boys is never or rarely called out and addressed, if there are no widespread efforts to re-educate and change the culture of boys all over the world while we are seeking to empower, educate, and raise the status of women, there will always continue to be disparities and inequality amongst men and women.

I was especially struck by the prevalence of young girls being forced to serve as sex slaves in worldwide.  Although it is hard to get an exact statistic of how many sex slaves there are globally, it is believed to be a larger number than the numbers of slaves in the Atlantic slave trade (Kristof and WuDunn, 2009, p. 11).

Many of the solutions to combat this problem are largely ineffective. There may be efforts to provide more education for girls where there is risk for them to become trafficked, yet on the journey to school they are met with harassment by young men (Kristof and WuDunn, 2009, p. 21). Other efforts by outsiders have caused the problem to get worse. When U.S senator Tom Harkin sought to prevent child labor in sweatshops in Bangladesh, the firing of girls in the factories led to them being rerouted into brothels, where many have now died of AIDS (Kristof and WuDunn, 2009, p.17).

I believe strongly that in addition to educating girls and women, whether it is through empowerment, sex education, business skills, reading and writing, and beyond, we need to be doing our part to educate boys in similar yet different ways.

I can remember when I was in high school, there was a very notable case of domestic violence of a former student who was killed by her boyfriend. Since that point, we frequently attended anti-domestic violence trainings, even participating in self-defense workshops for just us girls. There were always whispers amongst teachers and students that there needed to be anti-domestic violence trainings for the boys, but to my knowledge, that never actually happened.

Yet, it is not the women who are to blame for these incidences. The self-defense workshop almost suggests that having skills to deflect punches, kicks, and grabs are enough for us to prevent violence towards us as if it’s our responsibility to prevent it in the first place.

Jackson Katz, a pioneer in the field of domestic violence prevention has made it his mission to change this. He believes that violence towards women is more of a men’s issue than a women’s issue, that men need to take ownership for their actions and speak up and influence other men to do the same. He is one of the few people I have heard of who are doing this kind of work. He works with athletes and men in the military in the United States. You can hear him speak about this topic in his Ted Talk here:

However, his ideas need to be applied globally and become more widespread. There needs to be massive efforts to change the culture of men early on, when they are boys. It may be difficult for educators around the world to see the value in doing so, especially when many of the negative attitudes towards women are so deeply ingrained in many cultures, but there has got to be a way.

Given that I do not feel equipped with the skills and knowledge to design such a program for boys around the world, I wonder if many people have these same ideas, but talk themselves out of realistically pursuing them. Those that are truly passionate about ending the oppression of women need to find a way to engage with boys as well. Maybe it starts with a woman raising her own son to be different, or by becoming a teacher of boys and girls who has no tolerance for gender stereotypes or violence. Maybe they are like me, urging more people through blog writing and poetry to think of how they can play a role in changing the culture of boys. Maybe they will start a worldwide effort to incorporate education that changes boys’ perspectives of girls and diminishes violence and sexual misuse. Hopefully, if they choose the latter, they will learn from their failures, and their successes will make a big enough impact to be celebrated so that we can all learn from them, and know that the men of tomorrow will no longer perpetuate the problems facing girls and women today.



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