A bit of editing

I woke up this morning, made my husband’s lunch, kissed him on the front doorstep and sent him off to work. I did a few small things around the house and made a to-do list for the day. I wasn’t feeling much of anything special until I read an article. An article about a Christian radio personality who has apparently been charged with sex crimes. While I was disgusted by the entire thing overall, and disappointed that yet another person who claims to align himself with the attitudes and actions of a follower of Jesus Christ has a secret life that in no way matches that, I was particularly irked at the way the article was written and by some of the comments that I deem to be quite ignorant.

First of all, the actual text of the article in question can be found here. The summary sounds a little something like this:

There’s a dude in northern Michigan by the name of Balyo. He happens to work as a radio personality for a Christian radio program. The article says he’s been charged because he “allegedly paid another person, who is a defendant in another child exploitation case, to arrange for sexual encounters with minor victims.”  

Keep in mind that the federal definition of human trafficking is this:

Under U.S. federal law, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking:

  1. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age, (22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a)).
  2. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).

The article goes on to say that Balyo has been arrested “on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.”

Next, an “expert” weighs in on the matter. The article states:

As Cooley Law professor and human trafficking expert Chris Johnson explains it, Balyo is accused of being a customer. “I think the terminology would be a ‘john’ — that in itself is not going to be human trafficking,” Johnson said. “The person he went to in order to secure the child would be the one who would be guilty of human trafficking.”

And that’s one of the things that’s got me all salty this morning. This dude Balyo allegedly (I understand innocent until proven guilty) sought out another person, by the name of Moser, who was already being investigated under a state and federal sting operation. This guy Moser, according to this article, was a real piece of work. It states that “He ran a website offering paying customers sex with underage boys.” (by the way, there was no “allegedly” to that statement. It had already been established that he ran such a web site.)

So here’s the first guy, Balyo, paying the second guy, whom he knows to run a web site that offers sex with minors, yet this expert says that Balyo is just a “john” and that he wouldn’t be considered a human trafficker. Hmmm. The federal definition says that Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act,…in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Did this many Balyo not recruit an underage boy for sex? Does it matter that he used a mediator to make provision for him to obtain an underage boy for sex? If he had cut out the middle man and grabbed a kid off the street, we would call him a trafficker, but since he went about it the sophisticated way and paid a “professional” trafficker, we’re just gonna call him a “john” instead, right? What the heck!?

Is this man not the REASON there is sex trafficking? Balyo allegedly supplied the one thing this world needs to ensure that children are sexually exploited: the demand.

Which brings me to another point that has me all fired up this morning. This article continues to use language that is harmful in the fight against human trafficking.

The “expert” makes another statement: He apparently says “pimps with prostitutes who are underage are not uncommon.”

There is no such thing as a “prostitute who is underage”. There are only trafficking victims who are minors. According to the same federal definition above, a person who intends to sell a person under 18 is a trafficker, and that underage person is a victim of trafficking. Simple as that. There’s no such thing as an “underage prostitute”. Hear me?

The expert goes on to say that “Many times when you do have a brothel that’s raided, you do end up finding child victims, unfortunately, that are involved in the commercial sex trade…according to the Department of Justice, the average age a person enters prostitution in the United States is between the age of 11 and 13 years old, so there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

“…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

This statement bothers me to no end. To me, simply saying that there are lots of people who apparently have this “sexual appetite” for children almost makes it sound as if that’s a normal thing. It sounds almost as nonchalant as saying there is quite a prevalence of people who have a craving for vanilla ice cream over chocolate. Totally normal, viable preference, right? No.

To me, semantics matter. BIG TIME. In a world where so many of us are trying to fight against human trafficking, the exploitation and sexualization of our youth, and the criminals who make all that happen, I think it’s high time we start paying more attention to the words we use when discussing the whole thing.

Stop allowing “experts” to use words and phrases such as child prostitute. It has been well established by now that we legally can’t define anyone in that way, and the fact that this person did so, no matter how credentialed he may be, disqualifies him as an “expert” on the matter in my eyes.

And let’s call things what they really are. Instead of saying stuff like “…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children”  how about we think about our words and say what is really meant by that statement, like “there is quite a prevalence of people who regularly seek out opportunities to exploit children sexually.” That’s what we’re really saying there, isn’t it?  We have got to be more careful with the words we allow when speaking of this evil.

Whether or not this Balyo person will be found guilty remains to be seen. What evidence has been collected to that end, I do not know. But I do know that sadly, this is one of many people who have been accused of exploiting our children directly for their own sick purposes. In my opinion, anyone who participates in that process should be charged with human trafficking. Because the truth is, without the demand, there is no need for the supply. So a person who seeks out some other person person to assist him in exploiting a child is as guilty of trafficking as the person who sells the child for that purpose. Perhaps even more so, because the problem begins with the demand for such a thing. The problem begins with the demand. And as much as we fight against the problem of human trafficking, it will continue as long as the demand continues. It will continue as long as people are able to minimize the thing by talking in terms such as “appetites” and “child prostitutes.” It will continue as long as we don’t think our words really matter all that much.

Spitting in its face

This week I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Helen Keller, which is indeed my favorite quote of all time:

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.”

This mess isn’t going away anytime soon. It won’t stop just because we vote for so-and-so. It won’t stop if we take away guns or give out guns to everyone or throw money at people who say they’ll do either. It won’t stop when we sing God Bless America or when we don’t. It won’t completely stop at all. There is simply evil in this world. If there’s any doubt of that in your mind at this point, then I certainly am at a loss to try to convince you. As long as we live in this world there will be evil. There will be wrong. There will be suffering. There will be things for which we have no explanation or framework to understand them, other than just calling it out for what it is: pure evil.

Our job, then, is not to explain it or make excuses for how it could have happened in the first place. Our only job is to stare it in the face, call it what it is, and do whatever small part we can to offer some hope.

Evil is a person who take lives for no apparent reason. Offer to mourn with the grieving families. Evil is a person who preys on innocent children to do them harm. Offer a safe haven for children you know so this doesn’t have to happen to them. Evil is a lifetime of horrific abuse visited on a person from which they had no escape. Offer them the truth that they need not be ashamed, and that they are special and loved no matter what.

Evil is all around us, my friends. But so is hope. As long as any of us are standing, so is hope. Let’s not just sit In our cozy homes wrapped up in cozy blankets on our cozy couches, shaking our heads at what the TV tells us. Offer up some hope… Look evil square in the face and tell it that you’re launching an assault and there’s nothing it can do about it.

Then GO. Do some good. ANY good. Good just done for the sake of doing it offers a glimmer of hope and spits in the face of evil. And I think that spitting in the face of evil sounds like the most lovely thing I’ve heard all week.