- - Monday, March 4, 2019

Three national news stories recently broke, all involving cases of well-known men ensnarled in allegations of criminal sexual behavior: Proof that even the most unlikely of people aren’t immune from human frailties.

Rhythm-and-blues singer R. Kelly was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse dating back to 1998; three of his alleged victims were between the ages of 13 and 17 at the time of the alleged crimes.

The activities of wealthy, politically connected Florida financier Jeffrey Epstein are back in the spotlight; the news this time revolving around his apparently light sentence after a 2008 plea deal secretly ended a federal sex-abuse investigation involving at least 40 teen-age girls.

New England Patriots billionaire owner Robert Kraft, former Citigroup President and CEO John Havens and John Childs, founder of the private equity firm J.W. Childs, are among many other men facing charges of soliciting sex at a Jupiter, Florida, massage parlor. The bust was as part of a larger-scale sex-trafficking sting estimated to be a $20 million-a-year criminal enterprise that has led to hundreds of arrest warrants.

The cycle of abuse continued for these young women, when they were advertised for sex on online forums which detailed visits involving Asian women supplying sex acts, massages and body rubs for pay. According to police, it was this online evidence that warranted law enforcement surveillance of the property in which the men were captured on film engaging in sex acts by the hidden surveillance cameras.

These cases share at least two common threads: First, each involves prominent public men, who seemed to have it all and had everything to lose from engaging in the sexual exploitation of others.

Second, young women and/or teen-age girls were sexually exploited by rich and powerful men, who allegedly used them like chattel, with little or no thought for their dignity, safety or well-being. In the case of the Florida sex-trafficking sting, the women are believed to have been lured from China under false pretenses by traffickers of a legitimate job. Instead, they were shuttled among strip-mall massage parlors right under the nose of the upper crust of South Florida glitz and glamour.

Many defending the men charged in the Florida sting claim the men didn’t know they might be procuring sex from a trafficked victim. Hmmm. Check out the setup and conditions of the “massage parlor” Certainly not the plush spas of The Ritz Carlton or The Breakers where men like these dine with friends and family. While a brothel disguised as non-descript massage parlor may not be on a street corner on the seedy side of town — if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck — well, you know. Make no mistake about it, sexual predators come from all walks of life. They are entertainers, businessmen, coaches, politicians, teachers and faith leaders. Clearly, as these recently reported cases reveal, they are often disguised by their success, their occupation and their overall public veneer of decency.

What drives seemingly upstanding men to allegedly break the law and engage in sexual misconduct or crimes? According to research, one answer is found in the myths and lies perpetrated by modern-day pornography that fuels one’s desire to act out their sexual fantasies with a willing partner, or forcibly. Today’s pornography promotes permission-giving beliefs that women are to be objectified, used, abused and discarded.

According to Pornhub’s annual review, U.S. consumers provide the most traffic to their site. The same review reports that the term “teen” ranked seventh among “most searched terms of 2018.” The journal Violence Against Women reported physical aggression in nearly 90 percent of leading pornography scenes and verbal aggression in nearly 50 percent, with nearly all of such aggression directed toward women.

The Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force in 2013 found more than 45 studies that show a person who is exposed to pornography is more likely to commit sexual offenses. This growing hunger for obscene content is driving consumers to seek out sexual gratification from an industry shrouded in the sexual exploitation of young women and teens.

Men who exploit others for sex, regardless of whether they pay for it, are part of the demand-side of the sex industry. Busting child-porn and sex-trafficking rings, arresting traffickers, “Johns” and those who sexually exploit or abuse others is essential to tackling the supply-side of the equation.

But, if federal law enforcement fails to prosecute the pornographers for federal obscenity violations whose content is often fueling the demand, it becomes a futile game of Whac-A-Mole, and never comprehensively addresses the root problem.

For starters, let’s obliterate obscene content from the Internet by demanding the aggressive enforcement of the entire rule of law. Let’s pay closer attention to recognize the signs of human trafficking and contact law enforcement or health inspectors to report suspicious activity. And, let’s encourage males who struggle with sex addictions to get help.

Finally, let’s become a more civilized society where all people are treated with dignity and respect. Until then, America will continue to sink deeper into the miry clay of an increasingly pornified culture, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

• Donna Rice Hughes is president of Enough Is Enough (EIE), a national, non-partisan organization fighting to prevent sexual exploitation of children and women in the digital world. EIE is the author of “The Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge” signed by President Trump.

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