Very recently, I became aware of a growing social media effort among men to speak out against the horrors of sex trafficking  by posting photos of themselves holding up signs saying, “Real men don’t buy girls,” as a way of using macho pride to show that it is not manly to participate in human trafficking . As might be expected with any sort of celebrity-driven phenomenon, where famous people use their fame to promote various social causes, there has been a variety of responses to this effort (since there are few people who would openly admit that it was a manly thing to do to exploit vulnerable children, an evil that is universally recognized as monstrous in the general public, even by those who are not particularly moral). The general response has been either to celebrate that it has been become at least somewhat fashionable for celebrities to speak out against one of the more offensive evils of our times. Others, though, have taken the celebrities to task for assuming that their stand is a moral one if they refrain from buying girls but do not refrain from renting them for lap dances or as escorts.
My own thoughts on the matter, as can be expected, are rather nuanced and complicated. My first and automatic reflex is to celebrate it when people stand out against any kind of massive evil. Anything that makes the horrors of child abuse less rampant in our society is something that I reflexively support, especially as a way of putting on the stigma on those who are engaged in abusing others (rather than, as is often the case, those who suffer from it and have survived it) and as a way of using the tendency of men to want to be viewed with honor and respect as a way to encourage respecting the honor of young ladies. I should be careful to note that this is not my last or only thought on the matter, only that my first thought is to celebrate and appreciate efforts to give honor and respect to others, especially those who are vulnerable to exploitation in an evil world that tends to value self-gratification by anyone strong enough to force their will on someone else or clever enough to deceive or seduce others into gratifying their will, however repulsive that will.
Nevertheless, I also candidly admit that this is only a beginning and not an ending. It is a comparatively easy matter to stand up against an evil and a horror that everyone is ashamed about, even, no doubt, those people who are caught up in the midst of those evils themselves. Generally speaking, the sort of men that engage the most readily in human trafficking of any kind are neither wealthy enough or honorable enough or handsome or charming or confident enough to gratify their desires in a more up-front or lasting way. There is often (and entirely properly) a sense of shame at not being able to gratify one’s heartfelt longings, and the general responses to that shame involve either painful reflection about loss and lacking, coupled with rather intense examination and wrestling, efforts whose initial unpleasantness can lead, ultimately, to a great deal of personal growth, or some kind of initially pleasant and less painful escape that often ends up far worse than the beginning. Sex trafficking happens to be one of the more heinous and horrible forms of escape from the initial domestic crises that result from our response to our longings for affection and intimacy.
Yet human trafficking, as immensely evil as it is, and far too prevalent throughout the world and the melancholy course of human history, is only one of the many evil ways that these proper and normal longings are fulfilled. Nor is it the only way these longings can lead to the abuse and exploitation of other people. It is not necessary to buy girls to exploit them or abuse them. One can rent them for the night or for the hour as a prostitute or escort, for a few minutes for a striptease or lap dance at some sort of nightclub that is often falsely called a “gentleman’s club,” one can create and consume pornography, or, far more insidiously, view them as objects to fulfill one’s own desires rather than as subjects with their own desires and goals and wishes of their own. (The same is true, it should be noted, in reverse, given the insidious ways that men can be viewed as objects or as some sort of “other” whose worth is as the source is money or attention or affection that would be desired). If such a campaign as “real men don’t buy girls” can prompt a larger conversation within both men and women about how we objectify and exploit others to serve our own interests, and how that is unacceptable for anyone to practice, so that our high and lofty ideals and our good opinions of ourselves can lead to our actions and thoughts being brought more into alignment with those ideals, it would be a good thing. That is, after all, the general path of moral improvement when one speaks of the larger culture .
It would be unfair to point the finger at some people as hypocrites for making a public stand against sex trafficking if they are frequently surrounded by attractive and nubile young women in their music videos, or if they are known for their enjoyment of nightclubs and escorts. After all, we all have blind spots in the way that we respect and honor others. None of us is entirely just in the way that we view others, or free from taking advantage of others in at least some fashion, even if only in our overheated imaginations. Furthermore, we are often in the grip of our own compulsions even as we would wish to urge and support others to avoid their grip even if we cannot escape their pull ourselves . Even as we desire (even require) that mercy for ourselves given our own manifest failings, we ought to extend that same mercy to others. Yet making a claim to being an honorable and upright person has serious consequences in the way that we have to bring every thought and action into subjection to the external standards of morality and virtue that we wish to internalize. The fact that we do not do this perfectly does not in any way make this effort or aim anything less than utterly sincere and heartfelt. Those aspects of our public behavior that would seek to make us more virtuous in thought and word and deed ought to be celebrated, and ought to be taken not as an ending but as a beginning towards making our whole behavior a model of respect and honor towards others.
Yet this sort of effort deals with far deeper matters than are readily apparent on the surface. For one, the admission that it is wrong to buy girls if one has the means and inclination to do so contains with it the seeds of some serious implications that are not often examined in full. For one, it suggests that there is a standard of external morality that is higher than our own wants or desires. The content of that standard of morality is a matter of serious controversy, as is the way in which that standard gains it legitimacy. If it is merely a matter of democratic vote, than any society that is sufficiently wicked or debased would be within its rights to reject a standard of morality that was present elsewhere. If, however, that standard of morality is valid no matter the opinion of those people, then the source of that standard of morality becomes a matter of extreme importance, as the content of external moral codes (like the laws and ways of God as expressed in the Bible, to give one obvious example) speaks out against a great deal of moral evil beyond sex trafficking (though, it does speak out rather pointedly against that as well). Additionally, speaking out against the evil of human trafficking, if one wants to use rights instead of moral standards as one’s rationale, suggests that children have rights that must be respected by all, another awkward implication that has consequences for issues like parenting, education, and abortion, to name but a few. No matter how one wishes to justify opposition to a given moral evil, one automatically brings up far larger issues in which our personal and societal behavior is at variance with our particular moral stance. If we desire consistency in our behavior, on any level, we have to wrestle with these larger implications and issues. That is, after all, how we grow morally and intellectually as human beings. Is this not the real goal of such campaigns in the first place?
 This is an issue this blog has addressed from time to time. See, for example:
 Examples of this can be seen at: http://rollingout.com/photos/celebrity-photos-photos/real-men-dont-buy-girls-support-nigeria-instagram-memes/