Sex trafficking is the issue du jour on college campuses. Students attend documentaries, hold charity walks, and put on bake sales to raise money for safe houses and victim restoration. Special speakers spread awareness about girls trapped in the sex industry against their will.
While most anti-trafficking work focuses on helping victims, few students talk about what propels women into the trade: the continued demand by men to buy women and the role internet pornography plays in that demand.
Lisa Thompson, The Salvation Army’s Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking, notes the glamour attached to “saying you’re doing anti-trafficking work,” adding, “It would be nice to see people take on small and unheralded and humble bits of work with the prevention side of trafficking.”
Effectively dealing with demand means taking on internet pornography. Mary Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that porn’s accessibility sets up entitlement: “I hear men say sex is a need, I have a right to it.” And as the sense of entitlement increases, men feel no qualms with paying women for sex in order to fulfill their “need.” She found that men who went to prostitutes were twice as likely as other men to watch porn.
Taking on porn means challenging the culture’s libertarian attitudes about sex, which basically says anything goes between consenting adults, and those who don’t like porn can change the channel. Those attitudes are prevalent on college campuses where 87 percent of males and 31 percent of females admit to watching porn, according to a 2008 Brigham Young University study.
At Weber University in Utah, one small college group is trying to educate other students about the harms of pornography. Junior Chandler Copenhaver, president of Fight the New Drug, engages students as they walk by the organization’s booth, explaining how pornography can be as addictive and dangerous to the brain as hard drugs: “We’re trying to change the understanding and conversation of pornography.” Copenhaver, stresses that Fight the New Drug is nonpolitical and nonreligious: “This is a health issue, a social issue, and it negatively affects society.”
Copenhaver’s organization is a chapter of the national Fight the New Drug, which aims to educate middle-school, high-school, and college students about porn. Through assemblies and flashy video productions, members teach how watching porn overexposes the brain to pleasure chemicals. Users build up a tolerance and dependency to those chemicals, making them want even more. “It’s naturally an awkward topic, kind of a taboo issue that’s emotionally charged,” said Cam Lee, who co-founded the group in 2007. “We try to stay away from morals and values, instead focus on the science and facts.”
Copenhaver says students at Weber University may not like his group’s message, but they often respect what he has to say “because of our stance on free speech. We support the First Amendment, we are not there for censorship, just trying to educate.”
Oklahoma State University professor John Foubert says college students are much more likely to fight sex trafficking than porn because many students don’t see the connection between the two. With so many students using porn, he says, “they have to confront the issue that being an activist, they may be hypocritical.”
At the Indiana University (IU) medical school in Indianapolis, Steve Jay wins national honors for his technical research and work on lung cancer. At a Gennesaret clinic for the homeless in another section of town, though, he’s an old-fashioned doctor helping homeless and poor individuals with ordinary problems like hypertension or the flu.
Jay is now past official retirement age, but the house calls he made decades ago with his physician dad, and a biography he read of humanitarian/missionary Albert Schweitzer, planted the seeds from which grew his desire to volunteer. Now he meets with patients in the basement of the aging Westminster Presbyterian Church in a low-income neighborhood. His pharmacy is a movable aluminum closet, stocked with basic medicines and drugs. The clinic is clean but bare, a contrast to both the state-of-the-art IU facility and the medical school “production model” with “less time for each patient”: He likes the “human” touch at Gennesaret and the thankfulness patients express.
Gennesaret’s name comes from the healing by Jesus at Gennesaret on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:53-56). Dr. James Trippi founded Gennesaret after he served food in a soup kitchen for the homeless, kept noticing the medical problems of the people he was serving, and thought he could put his skills to better use by treating the symptoms he kept seeing.
Other Gennesaret clinics are in homeless shelters, and some doctors work out of a traveling van. The organization also offers a short-term residential facility for homeless men coming out of hospitals with no other place to go. Trippi doesn’t see Obamacare resolving the problems the clinics tackle: “If everything works as projected, in 2019 there will be still 30 million uninsured people.” He also doesn’t claim to have a cure for multigenerational poverty: “We’ve seen a young woman who grew up in the shelters, and how she’s 14 and giving birth to a child. … I don’t know how to cure that. I’m not changing society. I’m trying to help someone get better.”
Gennesaret is celebrating its 25th year of ministry. With a budget under $1 million, not counting volunteer hours, the nonprofit likely saves the city about $10 million a year. Doctors see about 4,000 poor and homeless people each year at several clinic sites. Some come for several visits, saving on expensive emergency room trips. IU Medical President Dan Evans thinks it is hard to put an exact price tag on the value of Gennesaret, but he salutes the volunteer doctors for making “house calls in the hood.”
Some of the 230 volunteer doctors and nurses are motivated by Christian faith and the commands in the Bible to help those in need. Dr. Jim Noland of St. Vincent Center for Women’s Health has been an OB-GYN specialist but finds that Gennesaret service takes him back to the basics he learned in medical school. It’s similar to the medical care he provides on mission trips to Haiti and other Third World countries: “You get to serve people here. It energizes you instead of draining you.” —Russ Pulliam