Men – particularly men within the Christian church – have a crucial role in changing cultural attitudes surrounding the sexual exploitation of women, say organizers of an upcoming New York conference.

Rather than being confined to a matter of personal behavior or morality, the need to put an end to the scourge is a greater issue of societal justice, according to Paul Horrocks, founder of Justice NYC.  

Christian men, he told CNA, "acknowledge that this is a problem and it is a problem within the churches," but also tend to view the issue of sexual exploitation through media such as pornography as a topic "that we can't do anything about."

"This can change," he urged. "We can bring about cultural change, and it can start in the church."

Justice NYC is a New York-based organization that will host a conference on the sexual exploitation of women on Nov. 1. The event, which will include over a dozen churches and national organizations, will focus on areas such as human trafficking, pornography, prostitution and abortion, among other avenues of the exploitation of women.

In preparation for the conference, the organization also conducted a nationwide survey of 300 men, investigating their understanding of sexual exploitation, its causes and its effects.

Horrocks noted that one of the largest challenges in motivating men to help end sexual exploitation is combating the impression "that it's victimless."

In many parts of society, he said, men are "treating women as sex objects" by viewing them only as objects of pleasure such as in pornography or prostitution, or by abandoning women during unplanned pregnancies. He encouraged men to confront the "issue of sexual narcissism," and "look at the impact of sexual exploitation" both on society at large an on individual women.

Some women who participate in the pornography or prostitution industries, he noted, "have been forced into it, and some of those women have been trafficked," saying that men's participation continues "to create demand for this."

"I think the reason men should be engaged on this issue is that when you look at it, men are the ones responsible for a lot of this exploitation," he pointed out.

The negative impacts of sexual exploitation also affects women who may have willingly chosen to participate in these industries and practices,  he added. Horrocks noted the negative health, psychological and economic impacts of women facing prostitution, abortion, and the pornography industry, even when these paths are chosen by the woman.

These factors can also lead to an illusion of a lack of choice- particularly for poor women, he stressed.

Looking specifically at abortion, Horrocks said, it is "disproportionately poor women who are being impacted" and left in situations where they "'felt like I didn't have a choice.'"

 "We are treating poor women like sex objects, we are abandoning them and leaving them on their own to make this choice which leads to harmful impact," he stated. He noted that women face "all this economic harm," as well as a physical and emotional cost either in bearing and raising a child alone or facing an abortion.

"This is why I think men need to rethink this," he urged.  

Horrocks noted that men do view sexual exploitation as an important issue but do not understand their role in the issue.

"Men really see this as a critical problem," he said, pointing to his survey's results showing an overwhelming majority of men seeing exploitation and men's attitudes to it as problematic. However, he continued, "when we dig into some of these different questions, men don't understand the scope of it," underestimating the number of women affected by sexual exploitation as well as the kind of impact it has on women's lives.   

"How are we going to attack this as a justice issue if men don't even understand the problem?" Horracks asked. He pointed, for example, to men's use of pornography, and the nearly "identical" use of pornography both inside and outside Christian communities.

"Men need to be involved in challenging other men to change the culture," he urged. "Let's change the culture where the church is."