Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stand up against John's Graphic Novel

Purchasing sex isn’t something most johns choose to depict in art. This week, however, a Toronto cartoonist named Chester Brown has released: “Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John.” He is interviewed in The New York Times about his experiences. Despite Brown’s attempt to euphemize prostitution in cartoon form, he cannot conceal the violence and harm that he and other johns cause. Even the reviewer in the New York Times admits he is “cringing” while reading the novel.

It’s important that we stand up against Brown as he claims that buying sex is harmless. There is no bravery in being “creepy”, as the NYT reviewer asserts. When CAASE interviewed 113 johns about their experiences buying sex, men like Brown admitted that they’re participating in a system that causes harm against women. Brown, however, seems oblivious:

“[Brown] considers — and largely if not entirely dismisses — concerns about troubling issues like sex slavery, thieving pimps and abuse. These things sicken him, but he thinks they are sensationalized and, at any rate, have nothing to do with his own and most people’s experience of paid sex.”

And yet other statements throughout the review of the novel reveal that Brown causes harm, including violence against women and the trafficking of girls and women.

Brown admits he prefers to purchase young women. From the review: “‘She’s a bit too old,’ he thinks to himself, when told a certain woman is all of 28.” Brown isn’t alone in his preference, and the practice of buying young girls encourages pimps and traffickers to recruit children and teens into the sex trade. Johns do not ask for IDs from the girls they purchase, and it’s rare that they face consequences. The girls, however, must live with the scars of being exploited.

While Brown says he never hurt a woman in prostitution, even the reviewer sees through his claims: “[Brown] admits that he’s slightly turned on by the prostitute who keeps saying, ‘Ow,’ during sex, even though she claims she’s not in pain. I cringe even to type that sentence.” Yes, we’re cringing too. Women in prostitution report that johns are the number one perpetrators of violence against them, including beatings and rape.

Johns know that they are causing harm. A few stats from the CAASE study:

  • 42% of johns interviewed stated that prostitution causes both psychological and physical damage to women.
  • 32% thought that the majority of women in prostitution entered the sex trade before the age of 18.
  • 20% said that they had bought sex from women who were trafficked from other countries.

Too often, johns are not held accountable by law enforcement. Over and over again, women in prostitution are sent to jail while johns like Brown simply walk away. And yet, the sex trade could not exist without people like Brown who create a demand for prostituted people. Until we challenge the myth that buying sex is harmless, we will face ambivalent reviews like the one in the New York Times. To learn more about johns and ending the demand for prostitution, sign up for our action alerts at