A new effort has formed to refocus issues of sex trafficking on the buyers of sex, not the victims. Demand Abolition, initiated by philanthropist Swanee Hunt, has the goal of fighting sex trafficking by eliminating the illegal sex industry in the US – and thereby the world. Among the tasks, Demand Abolition funded a research report “Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Sex Demand.” Conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Portland, over 8,000 men were surveyed. The report fills critical gaps in understanding of the illegal sex trade, why men buy sex, and what might be done short term and long term to alleviate this exploitative behavior.
A key finding of the research is that only 6.2% of the men surveyed paid for sex in the 12 months prior to the survey. As many as 25% of that group are repeat buyers, purchasing sex weekly or monthly. These high-frequency users account for 75% of the trade. According to the survey, they start early in life, encouraged by others in their social networks. About one in five (20%) of men not currently active sex buyers would become active if circumstances were more favorable – i.e. they were not threatened with arrest.
Only one key demographic factor influences these men. The high-frequency buyers are much more apt to earned over $100,000 annually. Based on the survey data, researchers estimate that $5.7 billion is spent on the the U.S. commercial sex market.
To counter the illicit sex trade, Demand Abolition makes seven policy recommendations. First and foremost is to shift arrests and adjudicating from prostitutes to arrests and adjudication of buyers. They suggest a short-term federal funding program to encourage state and local enforcement agencies to instigate reform. Fines from convicted buyers could be used to offset costs of survivor exit services and other programs to stop demand. They also recommend increasing penalties for repeat buyers, and using educational and public health campaigns to dispel the messages that normalize sex buying. The recommendations also encourage companies in the private sector to establish employer policies to prohibit sex buying. Last, Demand Abolition urges deterrence through a series of behavioral “nudges”.
Demand Abolition has assembled a notable Advisory Council to oversee its work. In addition to its founder, Swanee Hunt, President of Hunt Alternatives, it includes Jennifer Buffett, President of the Novo Foundation and Gayle Embrey, Executive Vice President of the Embrey Family Foundation.
The organization works with a large network of survivor leaders, criminal justice professionals, practitioners, researchers, policymakers, corporate leaders, philanthropists, and media. They created a 12 cities initiative, CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation) as a model. A four-year multi-sector program, it has demonstrated that reducing demand and holding buyers accountable can be effective, scalable and efficient.
The role of commercial media in fostering a culture of normality about sex work and sex buying is is not discussed in depth in the Demand Abolition research report. There is a bit of data gathered about the internet (page 13 of the report) as “a robust information source,” but this area could use further investigation. More research on how internet media impacts men’s decisions about paying for sex would add significantly to this data. According to Gail Dines, porn industry expert researcher and President and CEO of Cultural Reframed, about one-third of all web downloads are porn related. Yes, pornography is not the same as paid sex. But it is a parallel form of sexual exploitation. The behavioral “nudges” to curb deterrence, the seventh identified policy point, could be significantly facilitated by changes to the hypersexualization of corporate entertainment and media.
Editor’s Note: Betsy McKinney, Founder and CEO of It’s Time Network and author of this post, was recently invited to speak at an event in honor of Women’s History Month at the U.S. State Department. She gave an overview on the need for collective impact infrastructure and initiatives in the women’s sector, and explained the purpose of It’s Time Network and the Network City Program.
Everyone responded vigorously during the presentation when Betsy said that we need a collective impact structure that acts as an AARP for women, and that we can and should fund it ourselves as women over time. People also responded well to the need for shared measurement and the Women’s Well-Being Index. At the end, women from Malaysia, Nepal and Afghanistan asked how they can join the Network City Program. Betsy gave them copies of ITN’s Mayors Guide and they are eager to consider how they can also use the guide and recommendations.
After the unprecedented success of the Women’s Marches, everyone is asking, “What’s next?”
It’s time to build and fund women’s collective power at the city, state and national levels and beyond.
While writing postcards to members of Congress, donating to women’s organizations, participating in online petitions, and running for office are all critically important individual actions that woman can take, we need to consider long-term, collective action as well. Collective action requires that we connect in new ways to build common agendas, work together more effectively and track progress (and regression) in the areas that matter to us as women.
This work is not a sprint. It’s a marathon that we can “train” to achieve sustained impact in addition to short-term milestones. It’s time to build and fund network infrastructure at the local, state and national levels to support robust cross-sector collaboration and achieve the outcomes that are possible through collective impact work.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review popularized the theory of collective impact and notes that large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Currently, people working in environmental issues are often separate from social and racial justice leaders and many organizations are still too isolated. That isolation is a result of both segmented issues and incentive structures that lead to competition for limited resources. Most organizations compete for funding from the same sources and find it hard to collaborate with other organizations even when they have common interests. Without a permanent structure for supporting collaboration within an issue area or even across issues, such efforts are often only temporary campaigns for one specific goal rather than sustained coordinations.
At It’s Time Network we are building a national Network City Program to create the capacity for collective action beginning at the local level. With two pilot cities, in San Francisco and Denver and as more cities join the network, the capacity for collective action can begin to scale to the state and national levels. Additionally, each city and or state has international organizations that can join the network, which strengthens our global connections as well.
The work ahead lies beyond simple partisan divides. People from every part of the political spectrum are waking up and exercising their civic muscles. It’s not just about women and women’s rights, either. It is pro-democracy, pro-“justice for all”, pro-equality, pro-inclusion, and pro-love and non-violence. It’s about building bridges. Women have an important role to play in healing divides, modeling cooperation, and leading truth and reconciliation processes. Women are actively building inclusive, compassionate communities that can work together.
While it’s imperative for women to respond to immediate concerns in our world, the next steps must also identify and establish what we want and how to achieve it.
The Mayors Guide to Accelerating Gender Equality is part of a dashboard of tools for our Network City Program that details solutions. The guide is a readily accessible “toolkit” that provides recommendations, resources, and a checklist of actions a city can take in 11 different issue areas to improve the lives of women and girls and to strengthen communities. It is a tool for sharing best practices from city to city, and currently, the guide is being used to build a common women’s agenda for Denver. This spring, It’s Time Network is partnering with the Denver Office on Women and Families and the Mayor of Denver to produce It’s Time 2017: Denver Gender Equity Summit on May 31st.
Getting clear about exactly what we want is important as we use data to understand the current status of women to inform any actions that we take. What is the current status of women? And how can we meaningfully compare our circumstances from one geography to another? The California Women’s Well-Being Index is an important new tool for comparing the status of women county by county across the state. Developing this tool and creating a Well-Being Index for every state is critical for using data to inform our work together. As we identify areas of greatest need in each state, strategic collective impact initiatives can be designed to engage diverse organizations and stakeholders, and to support collaboration across sectors and among non-profits, business, government, private donors and others. By being data-driven and with tools to measure goals and outcomes, we can achieve long term change and impact. The Network City Program taken to scale, will be a powerful organizing structure for women to use in every community to ground the immense power and passion that has arisen over the past few months.
Building and maintaining a robust national collective impact infrastructure requires transformative funding. This work has been designed, is being piloted and is ready to go to scale. While it’s critical to fund the further development of this program, it is equally important to ensure that the long term funding of this work is a “collective ownership model” and is not forever reliant upon outside funding.
It’s time for women to “own our power” and to own the infrastructure and services that support us. With an innovative funding model, It’s Time Network is pioneering the concept of “women’s collective economic independence.” We cannot rely long term upon the government, corporations, large foundations, or even large private donors. The initial support they give is essential to seed this work, and women can and will always work with these vital funding partners and allies. Yet, it’s critical for us as women to grow the number of women who become participants in the national network so we can build our micro-funding capacity. We can and must rely upon ourselves and build a culture of women’s collective independence from generation to generation.
The Women’s Future Fund at It’s Time Network is part of the ownership model for building women’s collective economic independence. Growing this unprecedented national, collective asset, is tied to the growth of the Network City Program to ensure a distributed decision making model with diverse women leaders at the grassroots (inclusive of women’s city or state foundations) determining the allocation of funds, city by city.
Women have an essential role to play in what’s next not just after the election, but in all aspects of decision making about our world. Anxiety is high as the global challenges seem daunting. As women, we must ground our efforts in stable, loving, creative and collaborative actions that demonstrate our ability to heal and transform our world. It’s time to build our partnerships, grow our collective capacity and promote a vision of a world that we know is possible.
Want to see how philanthropy can amplify movements for women’s equality? Look no further than this new funding collaboration between the Harnisch Foundation and the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which will create long-term growth for women film makers and television directors.
“The Harnisch Foundation’s strategy for social change includes supporting creative communities, and investing in the power of storytelling,” said Ruth Ann Harnisch, Founder and President of the Harnisch Foundation. “Film Fatales hits both of those targets, giving women more opportunities, visibility, and connections. We share the goal of gender parity in making media.”
Film Fatales, once a relatively small network of women filmmakers sharing resources, has evolved into something much bigger. What was once a group of women in New York gathering for mentoring and support has blossomed into an organization of “over 500 women feature film and television directors in New York and Los Angeles, and scores more in sister cities across Europe, North America, and Australia.”
The evolution of Film Fatales has taken the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in a new direction this year, where twenty members of the network are premiering films, episodics, and virtual reality projects. These new works include the popular Amazon series I Love Dick, co-directed by Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, and Kimberly Peirce, and starring Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn.
Film Fatales also hosted Sundance’s opening weekend Women’s Brunch, a female filmmaker dinner with Kickstarter, and held their annual Film Fatales party at the event, with sponsorship from Blue Fever, Luna Bar, Tangerine Entertainment, and the Utah Film Commission.
Now, with new funding from the Harnisch Foundation and the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, Film Fatales is on the runway for a major takeoff in production of films by women. These two new grants will help the organization develop long-term sustainability, so that the large gender gap in film and television can begin to be closed. As of 2015, only 16 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on top-grossing films were women.
The first of these two new grants, from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, is a recurring grant for $10,000 and will fund media efforts which will raise the visibility of Film Fatales productions as well as other feature films by women around the world. This is the first time the Adrienne Shelley Foundation has given a grant to an organization instead of directly to filmmakers.
The Harnisch Foundation is providing a second grant of $25,000 to Film Fatales for General Operating Support. With over $10 million in grants since 1998, the Harnisch Foundation is also a funder of Women Make Movies, Sundance Institute, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and Chicken & Egg Pictures.
Films directed by Film Fatales at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival:
Band Aid directed by Zoe Lister Jones
Beach Rats directed by Eliza Hittman
Before I Fall directed by Ry Russo Young
Bitch directed by Marianna Palka
Buena Vista Social Club documentary directed by Lucy Walker
Deirdra & Laney directed by Sydney Freeland
Hold On directed by Christine Turner
I Love Dick co-directed by Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, Kimberly Peirce
If Not Love directed by Rose Troche
Landline directed by Gillian Robespierre
Lemon directed by Janicza Bravo
Motherland directed by Ramona Diaz
Step directed by Amanda Lipitz
Strangers co-directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall and Mia Lidofsky
This is Everything directed by Barbara Kopple
Through You co-directed by Lily Baldwin
Tokyo Idols directed by Kyoko Miyake
XX co-directed by Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin
Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Take the Lead Women’s Happy Hour with guests Rebecca Traister and Alyson Palmer. The preeminent Gloria Feldt, founder of Take the Lead Women and longtime leader for women in reproductive rights, moderated the discussion. All three women said things that not only lifted my spirits, but gave me some new directions to consider as I continue to develop Philanthropy Women.
Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies and writer for New York Magazine and The Cut, talked about how she came to feminist journalism, starting with a job at Salon in the early 2000’s, where her editor was a woman and much of the staff was comprised of women. She started to write more from a feminist perspective at Salon, and that work gained traction online.
Traister also talked about how attention to gender equality on the left grew during the Howard Dean campaign for President of 2003-2004, when women writers called attention to the gender equality deficits on the Left. “In the years that followed I got to surf a wave of feminist journalism.”
Alyson Palmer, feminist activist and band member of BETTY, talked about her journey to a feminist awareness. Palmer referenced a formative experience in her teen years when she faced down her father as he was mistreating her brother. “You will never do that again,” she recalled telling her father. “Something about that moment changed me forever.”
Another formative experience Palmer referenced was in college, when she worked helping to book bands. A partner in the work kept wanting to book bands that Palmer felt “put me down,” and so she began to articulate a critique of how some music treats women. “I kept challenging him about that, and my feminism grew more from there.”
She then discovered playing the bass, and soon after met up with her fellow band members. “Once I found this little pod of females, that’s when I found my feminist voice.” Palmer has been part of the band BETTY now for thirty years. She advised women to “find at least two girl friends,” in order to grow their feminism and valuing of their own ideas and visions. “Have a small group of women you can turn to.”
Palmer is the mastermind behind a campaign called “1 at 1,” which calls all women to spend one minute at 1 pm EST on January 21 to “envision a world of gender equality.”
“The first thing we have to do is go beyond the bubble,” said Palmer. “What if the march could somehow go to you? What if every women who believes in equality could do the same thing at the same time?”
“What if all of us stood up in complete silence, and had a vision of women’s equality?” Palmer started telling people about 1 at 1, and the campaign has been catching on and growing quickly.
“It’s the simplicity of it,” she said. “I truly believe we need a structuring from the bottom up of how we see ourselves, and how we believe in ourselves.”
Initially, Palmer expected she might get 1,000 or 2,000 people interested, but the interest in 1 at 1 has been growing dramatically. Sister marches across the country are planning to participate in One at One and now, Gloria Steinem has signed on to do the countdown to the event. International interest is also growing. Women’s groups in Iraq, Norway and Israel are all planning to participate in One at One in some way. More information about the 1 at 1 campaign is available here.
Palmer also talked about other movements for women happening internationally. In India, women are organizing against “Eve Teasing” — the harassing of Indian women at night. To fight back, women in India are marching on multiple evenings.
Feldt posed a question from a listener in Brooklyn, Kiera, asking about what women need to do in order to rise up and press on for gender quality. “What is the one thing women should say to themselves at the beginning of every day?”
Palmer responded by sharing a question she asks herself every day. “One of the best things you can ask yourself is: what am I going to do for myself today? It gives me a sense of value, and a sense of time and place for myself within the day.”
Traister responded by speaking to the “untold diversity” of women and the enormous task of trying to represent women’s experiences. “I also think there are lots of women who could stand to think about what they’re going to do for other people, too,” she said. Traister referenced the unexpected voting patterns of white women in the recent election, with more white women still aligning with Republicans. She noted that, for women, “itcomes down to where you put your gender and interest in other women in comparison with where you put your interest in race or your connection to men.”
Feldt brought up a significant pattern that has emerged in the history of feminism in the US. “What we see is a pattern of having gotten started and making some big steps forward, and then voluntarily stepping back, often to let another group go first.”
“Zigging and zagging,” observed Palmer. “That is what we do. It’s very hard when your culture is always telling you to put others first.”
“We don’t want to lose the positive value of putting others first, but it’s a tricky balance,” said Feldt.
Traister made the point that there have been an enormous shift in marriage patterns in the US, contributing to cultural shifts that need more attention. She noted that for most of US history, “Women as a class were dependent on men economically. Women had to kick off their adulthoods with marriage for hundreds of years in this country.”
But that is no longer the case. Starting in the early 1990’s, that marriage pattern began to change dramatically. “For women who did marry, the median age of marriage rose. Starting in 1990 it jumped to 23.9. Today it is over 27, and in many cities, it is now over 30.”
“There are now more unmarried women in the US than there are married women. I was fascinated by that,” said Traister, which is a big part of why she wrote All the Single Ladies.
“Housing policy, tax policy, the way that government has supported men’s participation in the workforce” were all designed around the idea that women would marry in early adulthood. “Now that we have women participating in the world differently, and we need a completely revamped set of public policies” to address that change, said Traister.
Traister said she recently learned that Hillary Clinton had put together an economic team for her presidency that “was going to redefine infrastructure to be about not just bridges and tunnels but about the infrastructure of care work — child care and elder care, those things were going to be right at the center.”
Traister expected that more women would vote for Clinton, based on how much her agenda planned to center around their concerns. “I did expect more women would vote for that. Women of color did. White women did not.”
Next up in the happy hour came a question from none other than me. “Kiersten in Rhode Island wants to know: what role can philanthropy play for creating optimism for women?” asked Feldt.
“Women are gaining power as they gain more wealth,” said Traister. “Philanthropy can play a role in terms of giving women direction about how to help, and it’s exciting to think about putting your energy and your dollars toward getting closer to equality.”
But Traister cautioned that philanthropy cannot be a stand-alone remedy for big social issues. “I also want to see philanthropy push for those policy shifts we are going to need. Don’t let up the pressure on the state institutions that are supposed to be providing for all of us.”
Palmer added that philanthropy happens at many levels in society and is not just about high net worth women. “There are people at all levels who are giving a percentage of their wealth who have very little money, but who are still giving at the same percentages. That fuels American progress, always.”
“It’s one of the things that has been characteristic of our culture in the US,” added Feldt. She noted that the philanthropic strain is more pronounced in American culture, and that government doesn’t tend to take on issues unless the grassroots, much of it supported by philanthropy, pushes for change. “Government doesn’t tend to take that responsibility unless we at the grassroots are setting the tone.”
But what’s really going on here? What’s the impact of women’s leadership in philanthropy in terms of (a) where resources are actually going; and (b) how things are done in the philanthrosphere?
These questions are important to the sector, but they also link up with the larger perennial debate over just how much change occurs when women start calling the shots. Philanthropy offers an intriguing case study in this regard.
Our own impression from IP’s ongoing reporting in this area is that there are good reasons for all the excitement about women’s leadership in philanthropy. In fact, this leadership has mobilized new resources to advance gender equity and does seem to be affecting how philanthropy writ large operates.