History of Men’s Accountability at OPS
OPS was conceived in 2011 when Noel Gomez approached Peter Qualliotine with an idea. They were both working at a non-profit in Seattle serving commercially sexually exploited youth. Noel understood that although, finally, more services were available for children and youth, there was a severe lack of appropriate services for adult women. She wanted to create survivor-informed, survivor-led services for women. Peter wholeheartedly agreed with this vision and added that he would like to see the effort include a community education program and a specific focus on engaging men to stop commercial sexual exploitation. OPS emerged out of those early conversations and from the start it has been considered both a social service agency and an agent of social change.
Prostitution is a Men’s Issue
Prostitution poses serious issues for women and children. The primary harm of prostitution is the extensive violence experienced by women and children in prostitution. Prostitution institutionalizes women’s sexual subordination to men, consequently a secondary harm of prostitution is the harm that it causes to all women. As a form of gender-based violence, prostitution arises from social, economic, and political inequalities between women and men. Prostitution is a an obstacle to women’s full, egalitarian inclusion in society . First and foremost, though, prostitution is an issue of men’s entitlement. Like Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, prostitution is a form of gender based violence and is driven by men’s feelings of entitlement to the bodies of women, children and sometimes other men. Male entitlement creates demand for commercial sex that in turn creates prostitution and trafficking industries. Men’s entitlement is an issue that men must grapple with. It prevents men from stepping into their full humanity and remains a major barrier to women’s full equality.
Unfortunately, men’s entitlement is largely invisible to men until they are made aware of it. Men are socialized to believe that they are entitled to more privilege and power than women. There is little in our society that challenges this core belief. When these beliefs are challenged, men often become very defensive, sometimes even aggressive. For many men, a challenge to sexist attitudes or behaviors often feels like a threat to personal identity because it feels like who he thinks of himself as, is being fundamentally challenged or criticized. For men, when defensiveness rises in this way, it is probably an indicator that there is something important that needs to be examined. Some reflection is in order.
Fortunately, these challenges can be helpful and can act as catalysts for change, for emotional and intellectual growth. Challenges to and criticism of male privilege are not directed at who men really are, but at the social values of injustice they have come to embody. Boys and men learn to be sexist. Learned behaviors and attitudes can be changed. There are different and better ways to be. Once brought to this awareness, many men are able to get beyond their defensiveness and recognize that prostitution harms men as well as women by promoting and reproducing stereotypes about male sexuality that link male sexual identity with the subordination of women. Men can (and many do) make the liberating choice to live as happier, less isolated and more fulfilled human beings by challenging traditional rules of masculine sexuality that embody an assumption of male superiority and require the subordination of women. More and more men are making this choice all the time. These men enjoy mutual, consensual sexual activity. They do not buy sex.
The cure for entitlement is accountability. Rather than believing that a man can force sex or buy sex or have power over an intimate partner or otherwise benefit from Rape Culture, a man who is accountable recognizes that he has privilege and power, simply by being a man in male supremacy. He understands that he has blind spots and that he needs to listen to what women have to say to him. He also needs to “account” for what he has said and done through critical reflection and ethical reckoning—a process that can help him grow and become a more connected, trusted and understanding member of his community.
OPS seeks to promote men’s accountability by engaging men in the endeavor to be allies to women in general and to prostituted women specifically. OPS has a growing community of male allies who are discovering that their liberation is, indeed, tied up with the liberation of survivors. And that accountability, allyship and accompaniment are infinitely preferable to and more enjoyable than entitlement, dominance and antagonism. Men have an important role to play in the movement towards women’s equality. At OPS, men reach out to other men, inviting them in to dialogue, reflect and build community based on the idea that full equality for all women is not just a priority, it is in fact essential to all social change work.