What Should We Call Men Who Buy Young Girls for Sex?

An important part of social change is the articulation of grievances, especially the naming of injustices. Feminists have developed many new terms that reflect women’s experience of inequality and abuse.

For example, when women started organizing around sexual coercion in the workplace, one of the first things they did was gather in a room and brainstorm about what to call their experiences of being propositioned by bosses and groped by co-workers. They came up with the phrase “sexual harassment,” which stigmatized behavior previously considered innocuous and natural. Naming their experience and framing it as abusive created a new conceptual category that raised consciousness about the harms of workplace sexual coercion. The phrase legitimized women’s negative feelings about this behavior, enabling them to band together, share their outrage and change the law—transforming common behavior into a federal civil rights violation.

Similarly, the term “Ms.” freed women to define themselves without reference to their marital status. The coining of “date rape” and “acquaintance rape” recognized and revealed that most rapists are people we know, not strangers. These new terms contributed to changing our social reality.

In the current movement against commercial sexual exploitation of girls, advocates are challenging old terms like “child prostitute” and “teen hooker” and developing new ones, like “domestic minor sex trafficking.” The girls are prostituted, not prostitutes.

But our language for men who buy sex from girls is totally inadequate. We call them “johns” or “tricks,” but these are relatively innocuous terms we also use for men who buy sex from adult women. We need a distinct term. We could call them “pedophiles” or “child molesters,” but these terms don’t incorporate the commercial nature of what’s going on, and they indicate social pathology. The shocking reality is just how “normal” these guys are—they are teachers, preachers, the guy who repairs your car, your elected representative. According to the recently-released Georgia Demand Study, “Men who purchase sex tend to come from normal backgrounds and seem no more likely to suffer from apparent pathologies than the rest of the adult male population.” The study found that 7,200 men buy adolescent girls for sex each month in Georgia–some unknowingly, but many knowingly. More than 400,000 men in Georgia today have bought a young woman to have sex.

So, let’s give these guys a name. A name that captures the ugly reality of an older man taking advantage of the youth and poverty of young girls—the predatory, pathetic shamefulness of it.

Any suggestions?

Carrie Baker’s article on treating U.S. minors who are prostituted as trafficking victims, not criminals, appears in the forthcoming issue of Ms. magazine. Join the Ms. Community today and have it delivered to your doorstep!

PHOTO from Flickr user Steve Weaver under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Monica Sheppard says:

    As a graphic designer, I can concur that “branding” is everything. When I was in high school in the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” years, we proved how quickly we could parrot a new catch phrase, whether we were living it out or not! At that time I knew a boy who made a joke of referring to his male appendage as Richard, because it was long for Dick. In keeping with the term “john” for men who buy sex, I say we refer to men who buy underage sex victims as “richards”, because they are long on the derogatory implications of the short version of that name! Thanks for the food for thought, Carrie!

  2. Marilyn says:

    Paying Pedophile

  3. Erin Dubyak says:

    The lack of concrete language for this kind of offender is a huge impediment to stopping this increasing problem, or pandemic really. By calling these children “prostitutes” we lay the blame on them, thereby absolving these men of the social and moral responsibility of their actions.
    I agree Carrie, lets start calling it like it is, because it is only then that we can force the legal system to begin punishing the predators and not the victims.
    This name, whatever it may be, needs to be strong, to the point, blunt. I agree that “johns” and “tricks” doesn’t hold a candle to the emotional response one gets from “prostitute” and “whore”, very distinct terms with distinct definitions. We really need a renaming of the whole system.

  4. I’ve taken to using the term “client pedophiles” or “transactional pedophiles.”

    Part of me thinks the language is too clinical, but part of me like how it reinforces that these people are *paying* to violate children.

  5. yoteech2002 says:

    How about CRIMINAL SEXUAL ABUSERS of girls.

  6. How about “girl-buyers”? Or “childhood-stealers”? Maybe “teen-buyers” or “pimp-friends” or “bad-daddies”. Personally, I like “traffickers.”

  7. Wonderful post. We discuss this lack of attention to the demand side of sex trafficking all the time in my classes. Increasing the social stigma attached to this behavior is the best way to curb it, as you imply. A lot more on the enforcement side would nice too, but we have to start somewhere. Something like Paid Rape User or Sex Trafficker (which is what they are, essentially, since their desires are what create the existence of child sex trafficking in the first place) may work!

  8. I’d like to second Marilyn’s “paying pedophile”. It’s specific, embarrassing to the abusers, catchy, and is easy to translate into other languages. Nice, Marilyn.

  9. I’d use trafficker or slaver. Men who pay for prostitutes make the trafficking possible, often without realizing that the girls or women they buy are not there by choice. Using trafficker or slaver as terms would make it quickly clear the role they play in sex trafficking when they buy sex.

  10. “Robbers” or “thiefs”? The stealers of youth and childhood? Or “wreckers”..the destroyers of something beautiful and innocent.

  11. I think that one important aspect of the naming of “sexual harrassment” is that it was very clear and specific. Even if you didn’t know about the behavior before you read the term, it pretty clearly describes what was going on. It also focuses on the behavior rather than the person, which I think focuses the discussion well. (I don’t care if you’re attracted to your co-worker or subordinate; I care that you not make their lives difficult because of it.)

    Similarly, while my internal reaction to someone being attracted to people below the age of consent is “ewww!” — I don’t really care about their *feelings* — I care about their *behavior.* And it’s the *behavior* that has to stop. People who commit sexual harrassment are harrassers, people who commit date or acquaintance rape are rapists — the terms for the people are more general than the terms for the activity. That may end up working well here, too.

    So what do we call the act of paying someone (and I’d like a term to make it clear that it’s not the *child* who’s making a profit here) to force a child to have sex with you? Commercial child rape? Child sex trafficking? I think it would be better if the phrase were shorter; it’s telling, I think, that we don’t have a single word for the rape of children as distinct from the rape of adults. Is the idea of “trafficking” by itself strongly enough associated with sex traffic that we could use “child trafficking”? If it is, I think “child trafficking” and “child trafficker” may work.

    This is a conversation I will follow with interest.

  12. Commercial pedophile comes to mind, reflecting both the monetary and the sexual aspects of the act. Although I have yet to find a term that accurately depicts the gross indecency of the act. As the mother of two wonderful little girls, especially seeing as sex with an underage person is known as statutory rape, I’d be more inclined toward “commercial rapist”.

    And what about these children’s pimps? Don’t they deserve a more appropriate name? Perhaps “commercial rape dealer”?

    I have a sudden urge to be home to hug my daughters and count my blessings that they’re safe and happy.

  13. Anne Lewinson says:

    Great post, Carrie, and you raise a really good question about what to call those guys. The problem with ‘paying pedophile’ is that pedophile raises an image of a child under 10 or so, and thus the ‘customers’ of a 13-15 year old wouldn’t see themselves in that word. I think I would vote for ‘girl-buyer’ because it makes it clear that the gal is exploited and victimized, certainly not benefiting in any way from the transaction.

  14. this site speaks the truth. We must give the child prostitute a VICTIM
    YES this is so common… and our culture has literally pushed it under a rug. LETS call men who buy children what they deserve CRIMINALS!

  15. Good point Anne Lewinson about some people excluding teen girls from their mind when they think of victims of pedophiles. Maybe we should use the word adolescent somewhere. This is tricky. It would be easier if there were already a derogatory word for male purchasers of adult women for sex then we could adjust it maybe.

    Adolescent Sex Purchaser perhaps?

    But that might sound like an adolescent is doing the purchasing.

    Adolescent Sex Criminal?

    I think the fact that many of these men are not pedophiles shows that the line between girl and woman is far too blurred in our society. I hate the way young teen girls are hypersexualized in media.

  16. Michelle J. says:

    Hmmm, how can we find a word that demonstrates that men who buy sex from young girls are taking economic advantage of said girls and that what they’re doing would be considered molestation and/or sexual assault if money wasn’t being exchanged. Terms like “john” or “trick” really divorce the person paying for sex from a young child from the reality of what they’re doing. In the UK, they call some of these men “kerb crawlers” and I think that’s a far better term than what is used in the US.

  17. Child trafficking user? Buyer of statutory rape?

    Economic and sexual abuse of minors.

  18. English is not my mother tongue, so I may not the one to suggest some wording for I really can’t tell if it sounds proper or anything. But I loved the post and how it got me thinking about finding a good expression (in my mother tongue). It really is important to find something fitting.

    I just wanted to comment on the suggestion by yoteech2002: I don’t think “CRIMINAL SEXUAL ABUSERS of girls” would be an appropriate wording. To me it implies somehow that in contradiction there must be something like an “un-criminal” sexual abuser.

    Right now, I don’t know which expression would work for me. It’s quite hard to find anything which includes all minors, the abuse factor, the monetary thing, the criminalization and the straight pointing out of victims to be found here… Argh.

  19. I will suggest “sexual exploiter of girls”

  20. “Paying pedophile” works. “Traffickers” is already in use, and assuming we can increase the awareness of trafficking in general, it could be effective. However, if the slave trading is occurring with minors for sexual purposes, “child sex traffickers” is more specific. I also like what some orgs have done — identifying the sex trafficking as slavery (which is an accurate depiction). So “child sex slave traders” would work, too. Hey, language has power. Let’s use it well.

  21. Oh, and I suppose I didn’t state explicitly, but those who buy (sexual) services from enslaved people are participating in the enslavement. They fit the bill the “trafficker” bill, imo.

  22. I like “commercial pedophiles”

  23. “Sleaze Bags” was the first thing that came to mind, but I guess that isn’t specific enough… “Paying pedophiles” is almost too nice, like it’s a disease they pay for. How about: Child Sex Criminals? (covers both buyer and seller)
    Pedo-Pimp? Pedo-Rapist?

  24. Tom Vitale says:

    I like “paying pedophile” .

    But what about pimps who pick up girls and turn them out, claiming to be taking care of them? What name for that?

  25. Catherine Campbell says:

    “Client pedophiles” seems descriptive, they use prostitution tourism for airline junkets to orient to buy young children, children are forced by their trafficer; the term “client pedophile” give an immediately understandable description.

  26. Of the terms suggested, I like “commercial rape dealer” instead of pimp, also “sex trafficker” works here easily too I think.

    I think “adolescent commercial rapist” instead of “john”
    and “adolescent commercial rape” to describe the behavior.

    Thanks for these powerful actions to change perceptions and the culture!

    with love,

    chriss

  27. Tom Vitale says:

    to anne lewinson, we have no word for adolescent=pedophiles. Your point is well made and taken. But…adophiles !!! I guess people would not know; but people did not know what sexual harassment was without a definition(s).

  28. white wing pedophile or southern man or values voting child rapist..any of these will be applicable without being prejudicial…

    • Ellen Johnson says:

      The problem crosses racial and geographic boundaries. Unfortunately, it happens all over the world. Georgia statistics were just used as an example.

  29. LUCILLE says:

    How about calling them Pedifists, my term for child rapists.

  30. Liz Homer says:

    They used to call such men licentious. How about licentious procurers?

  31. how about $predophie$

  32. We need to also use the phrase, “The World Suffers ‘From Testosterone Poisoning” in order to point out the exact cause of all the world’s woes. If it weren’t for men and their predatory impulses in everything, the world would not look like it does and would not be the dangerous place it is, especially for women and girls.

  33. I think I misspelled $predophile$ or maybe it should be capitalized. $PREDOPHILE$

  34. caillech says:

    How about Normal Heterosexual American Male = Nham

  35. Steve Anderson says:

    You didn’t define “young,” so how about calling them “Hefners?”

  36. In response to Elizabeth;
    Testosterone alone is not responsible for behavior. All humans have testosterone.
    Similarly, anatomy is not responsible for behavior. This is a part of what feminism is, no? Biology is not destiny. Humans are a product of their culture. What we teach, we sew. Examining behavior across cultures or across time, you may find great variations in behavior. For example, comparing murder rate by gun in the U.S. versus Canada (where Canada has three times as many guns per person, yet a homicide by gun rate of .76 per 100,000; while the U.S. rate is 4 times that).
    Looking at a another demographic may illustrate what I mean. Humans also do not differ behaviorally because of skin color. In the U.S. however, racism has been a fact. Moreover, racist attitudes and behaviors are not solely held and acted on by men. Would you say that the world suffers from people with lighter skin pigment?
    Racism and racist attitudes and behavior toward “non-white” people or those of non-European descent has been slowly changing over the history of the United States. Over a long period of time, and with huge amounts of effort, people of darker skin color have become more inherently valued by lighter skinned people for their humanness. It is no longer socially acceptable for any person or mob to hang a darker skinned person, where it once was commonplace in many parts. Ditto slavery.
    I suggest culture, and what is taught to our babies, is what we do. Girls do what they are taught and boys do what they are taught. If the culture teaches a “boy” to devalue people labeled “girls”, to take whatever they want for their own use, that violence is acceptable as a tool do so, that neither they themselves nor “girls” have a soul or spirit, to see girls body parts as objects to be used for stimulation, and are modeled rape and child rape institutionally or generationally (this is not a complete list), what might be the result of this teaching?
    Cultures where institutional power resides in one group over another will always be rife for institutionalized violence and abuse. Likewise wherever all humans are not valued equally and appropriation and wealth accumulation are the order of the day, a culture and a world will be produced where many people will steal and even murder to acquire more than their fair share( and take what is not theirs), and nations will do the same(See the United States for the best example. U.S citizens, tacitly or actively benefit from the theft, rape [taught and used as a weapon of "war"], and murder done in our name.) Ditto when greed is valued over the planet itself, humans will defile and destroy what they see as the source of their personal wealth accumulation.
    Changing culture can happen. The Civil Rights Movement happened. The Woman’s Movement happened (granted there is a long way to go for both). Gandhi’s non-violent protest movement happened. It starts with what we model to our/the children.

    Peace

  37. patricia w says:

    I have nothing but contempt for men who would harm children. And I feel like I’m really sticking my neck out here as someone who is going to suggest something different. I am a long-time feminist/activist and have two sons on the national sex offender registry. My oldest son is mentally ill and was falsely accused by an 8 year old girl. She grew up, recanted and gave a very strong deposition. My son’s life has been ruined. He lives in a self-imposed exile and I worry every day that someone will harm him. He is still on the registry. It’s very easy for someone to end up on the registry, but extremely difficult to come off. I know of other cases where it is obvious to me that there was a miscarriage of justice and some other mother’s son or brother,etc. is in prison for something they did not do. The hysteria in the U.S. about these laws has created this environment. Now MOST who are on the registry are not dangerous, and esp. not dangerous to children. The largest number of men, mostly on the registry are men who committed “virtual” crimes, who never harmed a child. The police go after those who download porn, rather than the distributors. Our prisons have become bigger than the prisons of China and Russia put together. There are political advantages for politicians who have prisons with large populations and the system is racist and classist.
    I am part of a group called W.A.R. (Women Against the Registry)…we are against the public registry because we are mothers, sisters, wives of men whose lives are being ruined by these laws, who have lost jobs, who have had to move, leave their families and who are being harassed by the police, probation,etc. Few know the extent of this persecution, most people assume if you’re on the registry you deserve to be there. There always has been a registry for the police of people who are most likely dangerous and we are not against this. We know this is important and necessary.
    Most on the registry are young people who texted a nude picture of themselves or a girlfriend. Others on the registry are 19 yr. olds with their 15 or 16 yr. old girlfriends. The youngest on the registry is an 8 yr. old child. Downloading “child” porn is one of the largest groups on the registry but what is “child” porn? If you think it’s showing something sexual with a 7 year old, you would be wrong. Most is of very post pubescent teens. Many on the registry are on there for urinating in public (probably intoxicated), mooning someone, streaking,etc.
    My middle son, who is immature and who many would call a scumbag visited a teenage (2 weeks shy of 16) prostitute….she lied to him and the police about her age. Her mother told me she was “out of control”. I was furious with this son, very disgusted with him…but is he dangerous? And he will be on the registry forever. This girl told the police it was consensual. Nothing mattered. My son lost a great deal. (the best job he ever had because now he is a felon (he never had a felony before). he lost his living place. He lost a lot more. I know few will care… But there are a great many people on this registry who don’t deserve to be there because they are not dangerous….and the ones who are, like Gerrido get to hide on the BLOATED registry.
    I wonder if you could see how many women who are the mothers, wives,daughters of these men (who made a mistake) do keep deserving this extreme punishment. Many admit they’re wrong, do get treatment if they need that (my son has been in counseling for over a year…this wasn’t required of him)…I’m sure he has learned a hard lesson but should someone be punished FOREVER ?? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime anymore. Excess is the order of the day.
    If any of you wish to learn more how bad this situation is, please go to http://www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org/index.php or http://www.sosen.org/

    • Unmerciful Mom says:

      My 12 year old son was drugged and raped by a pastor who worked with youth. Later, I learned that this man had previously molested several other boys. My minister husband didn't tell me about my son's ordeal even though I suspected and repeatedly urged my husband and my son to deal with the issue. Finally, after my son turned 19 my husband admitted that my son had been sexually abused. I tried to get the police to prosecute this man, but my son, at the urging of his father, refused to make a police report. Because my son was over 18 the police couldn't do anything without my son's cooperation.

      His father told me that the church addressed these issues "in house" and that this man's file would be marked in such a way that he would never pastor again. His father and I divorced. A few years later, I learned that the man who had raped my son had been in ministry within the same church organization after they promised to handle this issue "in house." He went on from there to another church organization with no mention of his past sexual misconduct.

      Finally, I read on the internet that he was in prison for sexually molesting a boy. The boy had lost his spleen as a result of a fight that ensued because of the abuse. Yet this man was only given a 6 month jail term because it was supposedly a first time offense. I called the attorney for the family and told him my story and explained that is wasn't a first time offense. I also called the prosecuting attorney and told her the same thing and then I sent a letter to the judge.

      This boys mother contacted me a couple of weeks later. She shared information she had learned through investigations concerning her son. I learned that the church organization that I was with when my son was raped never marked the abuser's file in any way to indicate that he was a sexual predator. Instead, they put him on platforms, leading worship music and he traveled on missions trips overseas with teams of teens. It could be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. But then, that's the purpose of a sex registry.

      This man only got 6 months in prison. The prosecutor promised he would be monitored carefully when he got out of prison. He was out of prison for less than three months when he was caught again with another minor and cocaine in the car. Today, he is in prison serving an 18 year sentence. I wish it were for life.

      Had any of his prior incidents landed him on the sex registry, he wouldn't have come into contact with my son or any other mother's son. I hope and pray that he never gets off the registry. I would like to see those who sexually abuse minor aged boys or girls get life in prison. Anyone who would conceal or cover for these abusers should be forced to bunk with them in their prison cells.

  38. Lucinda says:

    How about we call men who pay for sex with young girls what they really are, Criminal Hebephilic Sexual Offenders

    • That's a good technical name, but it needs to also "shame" the buyer. Shame is a great motivator to criminalize behaviour that most men are saying is normal. Sweden was able to change their prostitution problem with the "Real Men Don't Pay For Sex" campaign.

  39. Lisa Huibregtse says:

    How about “Sexual Slave Holder”? They own another individual for a period of time and submit them to terrible abuse. Sounds like something that should have been abolished about one hundred fifty years ago!

  40. Tom Vitale says:

    to chriss and to elizabeth w:
    …two very well written and thought out posts. I thank you both !,,,

  41. Melissa C says:

    I’m so glad Carrie brought this up – why don’t we have a name for these people?! I think the name should have the word “exploit” in it. Maybe child exploiter?

  42. veganmarrs says:

    Reminder – boys are used in the sex trade as well.
    A gender specific name ignores many victims of this problem. I think sex trade/traffic terminology should replace terms such as prostitution. It can be clarified with child/teen or adult. I can’t think of a shorter term that would work as well as child sex trafficker.

  43. I like the idea of calling them ‘Richards’ or ‘Hefners’. Good call. I was trying to think of something more along the lines of an animal, like the whole ‘courage’ thing, but I can’t think any animals that I would want to insult like that.
    How about PEDOBUCK?
    The Pedo stands for pedophile and the buck stands for money.
    I’ll have to think about it for a while to come up with something better.

  44. Predophile is a good word. Or Pedonatrix. Or simply: human enslaver (HE) — though the gravity of the crime is slightly lost with an acronym.

  45. Carrie Murakami says:

    I agree with Monica and Erin about the lack of a term to use but unfortunately to me the term must be something that when heard is stigmatizing. Many of the words and ideas we are kicking around in the posts while meaningful would not be normative for everyday people. It is through grassroots and making ourselves accessible to everyone that we as feminist can push our agenda. While I have no answers as to what the naming of men who steal innocence should be I do believe to begin this discussion is most important. While remembering that society creates and controls branding and a true brand can dominate and change the world. We as feminist must work together to find a concise branding that effectively shames the men and those protecting them. It must be based in the root of our society in order to be effective also….such as the term “hooker.”

  46. daflowers says:

    i believe we are thinking too hard. 'child buyer' or just 'buyer' comes to mind…

  47. I think child sex trafficker or paying pedophile call it like it is.

  48. Lia Locke says:

    How about OBVERT? a "pervert," etymologically speaking, "turns away from." there is no standard definition or previous use that i'm aware of for OBVERT, which, etymologically speaking means "turns toward or against." in the case of the purveyors of unwilling human flesh, they turn both toward (a mere object) AND against (the persons whom they've mistaken for objects.

    just a thought

  49. I like pedo-pimp, but I think "pimp" has too much of a positive connotation in popular culture (I know, WTF?). So the other ones I like are commercial pedophile and human enslaver. I think both will make people stop and think.

  50. This is really complicated. I don't know that much is gained, in terms of supporting young people, by coming up with a new classification or name for people involved in the sex trade.

    What names would we use for the conditions under which people get away with doing violence to young people who sell or trade sex to get what they need to get by? Economic injustice? Police brutality? Racism?

    What do young people who are involved in the sex trade themselves suggest?

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