Thinking clearly about sex and slavery

Last night I watched a documentary called “Nefarious” with some friends. The film deals with issues of human trafficking, the sex trade, and what some have called the last legal form of slavery. I’ve had a lot of thoughts running through my mind since then, and am not sure there’s a better place to express them than here. If this isn’t the kind of thing you want to read about, I won’t be offended (or even know) if you stop reading now.

First, we talked a lot afterwards about the idea that the issue is both larger and smaller than we think.

If we think it’s about choice, we are wrong. When a child is abused, runs away at 13 years old and is “taken in” by someone who gives her shelter, food, money…and drugs…they have in their world purchased her. It’s a gross misstatement to say that at 18 years old, drug addicted and terrified, that she has “chosen” the life. When a girl is lured or kidnapped from her village to a foreign country, passes by countless crooked officials in uniforms with badges, planted in a huge city where she speaks the wrong language and is the wrong color, and has no papers to make her presence legitimate, running away is hardly an option.

If we think harsher penalties for the person selling their body is the answer, we are wrong. She is flanked by an “owner” making a profit and a “buyer” who sees her as a thing to be purchased. Too often in our world people “play the victim” thus surrendering their power and choice in directing their own lives. However, sometimes people are victims. When societies fine pimps and johns while imprisoning women who will be beaten upon release, they’ve only added to the problem.

If we think repressive Victorian sexual ethic is the answer, we are wrong. The truth, pointed out so well by my friends, is that we’ve so compartmentalized our humanness into “emotion” “mind” and “body” that we’ve become incapable of intimacy that is honest, healthy, and moral. Sex is not the problem. Attraction is not the problem. Bodies are not the problem. Abstinence and “purity”, while clearly important and good, are not the answer.

If we think the perpetrators are all men in back alleys in other countries, we are wrong. Mothers sell their daughters. Prostitution is a family business. Newborn daughters are considered “security” for the future because of their wholesale value. Women run brothels and monitor strip club activity to make sure the girls are “doing their jobs.” Rural American towns provide ideal conditions for stage one houses to break down and train Eastern European women who have been illegally smuggled into the country. This isn’t a problem in Thailand, or Amsterdam, or Vegas. It’s a human problem.

When we begin to question the back story of the person in the picture or video and how he or she got there, who’s really getting that paycheck, and whether or not she’s choosing to pose, we are asking a right question. When we question the fines slapped on pimps and johns while women are imprisoned, we are asking a right question. When we challenge the view that female children are only worth what they can earn in the sex industry, we are on the right track. When we begin seeing others as fellow human beings first, and gender, race, socioeconomic status and all the rest second, we are getting somewhere. When we are confused by the fact that prostitution is illegal yet rampant, we are thinking in a good direction. When we begin to question the prominence of prostitution as a funny side story lines in our favorite sitcoms, we are engaging the issue.

I don’t know how to answer any of these questions. I know that something has been stirring in me for a long time that rejects the idea that the value of men and women is measured differently. As long as women are kidnapped, bought, and sold we will never come close to seeing the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I believe we should all care about this issue. I hope to be blessed with a little “divine imagination” regarding what to do with this all. For now, I strongly recommend checking out “Nefarious” for a unique take on the issue of human trafficking.


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