I wasn’t the one he meant to meet that night, when he came to the hotel carrying cold hard cash.
He was there for someone else. A mirage.
He didn’t have time, he told me, to play the dating game. He was busy. He was a businessman. It was better to just schedule it, pay for it, get his needs met, he explained. He had needs, he told me, like I didn’t understand the facts. They were two consenting adults, he said—repeating a lie he tried to believe. While he treated her like a commodity.
I truly believe he came there not understanding. How could he if no one had ever told him? How could he, when his actions looked so different from those of the predator portrayed on the screen? How could he, if at his core he believed he was a good person? If he wanted to be a good person? A good person couldn’t be complicit in sex trafficking, could he?
He needed to know: Just like the undercover officer in the other room was playing a part, so was the woman or child he might have met. Likely the ones he did meet on a different day.
“She doesn’t want to be there,” I told him. I explained that to a woman -- or to a child sold as one -- unwanted sex is experienced as rape.
They like it, he told me. They’re enjoying it, he argued. He said he could tell by the looks on their faces and the sounds they made.
Maybe. Sometimes. But not all of them. Not even most of them. Maybe none of them. Not based on the evidence I’d seen.
There was some accuracy in what he conveyed. Most men wouldn’t have sex with her if they believed she didn’t want to be there, if they saw it as rape. Probably many of them, like him, believed they left her with money and a good time. But she’d have to hand that money over. And his pleasure was her punishment, pain she believed she deserved, that others had repeatedly told her was the price of her own poor choices since the time she was first abused as a child.
Each “date” left her with scars of a different sort than she would get if she failed to play her part for the pimp waiting nearby—the one she depended on for food, shelter, and survival. The one who had originally pretended to be in love with her, to have compassion on her, to want to empower her and help her.
To survive, she has to play a role. One that eventually becomes internalized as her only sense of worth. One where all she is, is a commodity, trapped in an endless cycle of being used and abused for others’ pleasure, power, and profit.
If she’d been chained to the bed, I believe he’d have set her free physically. But did he know the invisible tethers that tied her there? Did he understand that he and others just like him had helped bind her? Did he see what locked him in his own prison, even if he never went to a physical one?
The problem he now had to confront is that he’d bought a lie. Was he willing to be released from it? What a catalyst that could be to begin a different cycle—and bring freedom to so many.
For him, freedom would come at a painful price—looking in the mirror and facing his own depravity. Was he brave enough to face the Truth threatening to burn away chaff like fire?
He didn’t want to believe it. He left when I told him to go.
Then he returned and knocked on the door. That was brave. We continued our conversation.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I probably wouldn’t recognize him if I ran into him today. He was one of so many I’ve encountered. Only time would tell whether he meant what he said.
He was one of so many, who came for a “date” and went out the door with no more legal consequences than the equivalent of a mere traffic ticket. That’s all the law and prosecuting authorities allowed at the time.
But I hope he left changed. I hope he looked in the mirror, surrendered to the Truth and allowed it to burn away the ugly parts of himself. And then, I hope he spoke his story all over the place, prompting others to look in the mirror.