Mr. Anybody: He’s the customer of underage prostitutes. And these types of johns are numerous in their search for fresh meat, making underage prostitution a flourishing business. That’s what the in-your-face documentary Trafic told us in the fall of 2019.
How come so many men participate in the sexual exploitation of minors? What can we as a society do stop these sex offenders and make sure they never reoffend? Even more importantly: how do we stop the proliferation of all these aggressors?
By Martine Letarte
Last December, Quebec’s Select Committee on the Sexual Exploitation of Minors made several recommendations, including an increase in police resources devoted to stemming this plague. But with the demand for child prostitutes on the rise, doesn’t this just skim the surface?
“Never, because for each file, there’s a victim we can help escape from their hell,” says Sylvain Dumouchel, commander of the joint SQ-SPVM task force on combatting pimping (the équipe intégrée de lutte contre le proxénétisme, or EILP) and an officer in the sexual exploitation section of the SPVM. “And don’t forget that each client or pimp we arrest is possibly tied to other victims that might never have denounced the assaults they suffered. So, denounce we must.”
However, fighting child prostitution can’t be just left up to the police. “Every actor, be it police, institutional or community, has a mega-important role to play. We must all join forces to fight the sexual exploitation of minors. There are some excellent programs that have been put in place, and we can’t hesitate to improve upon them,” says the commander.
To stop re-offenses, the Select Committee suggests that rehabilitation programs be made available to johns as well as pimps. What would this treatment be like? “It would be adapted to the profile of the assailant on a minor,” says Jonathan James, professor of psychology at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR).
There is no specific data on men who use juvenile prostitution services. “But we have some data on men who sexually assault children and who go on the internet to make contact with minors,” says James. “These men have certain cognitive distortions that we should also find among those who seek underage prostitutes.”
The psychologist explains that many sex offenders believe that these minors are free to give their consent, to live their sexuality as they wish. Many think their sexual behavior will not cause their victims any harm. Or they justify their actions by saying their sexual needs are simply uncontrollable.
The treatment they receive aims to diminish the factors that push an individual to commit a sexual assault. For example, someone who lacks empathy needs to become conscious of the impact their behavior has on the psychosocial development of their victim.
“Often, that brings them to feel guilt, and in the end, empathy,” James says.
“These individuals see their own responsibility for their acts in a diffuse manner because, for example, they went through an intermediary. But at the end of the day, they were responsible for assaulting a minor.”
The psychologist must determine if the individual has sexually deviant interests and, if so, will try to bring him to less extreme tastes. James will also look for causes. “If he is attracted to children, maybe it’s because he was never at ease with adults, so we must work on his social skills and his self-esteem,” he explains. “If he commits sexual assaults when he is mad, we must work on his anger management.”
It’s also possible to work on an individual’s strengths to help him cover for his weaknesses, in order to get him to understand his place in the community. “But for that to work, we must assure that his relationship, emotional and sexual needs are satisfied.”