Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sexual Slavery

I had assumed that prostitution was something women were reduced to, like Fantine in Les Misérables, and that "happy hookers" like Xaviera Hollander were rare exceptions to that rule. C. S. Lewis once wrote something to the effect that what most people consider one of life's great pleasures a prostitute endures to obtain money rings true, and I can almost empathize with Fantine's whimpered "Don't they know they're 'making love' to one already dead?"

Imagine my surprise, then, when I edited the paper of a client who is going to teach English in the rural areas of northern Thailand and read that young girls there actually aspire to be prostitutes. If I read correctly, no one needs to abduct them: they look at prostitutes' standard of living, compare it to their other alternatives, and conclude that the best career choice open to them is prostitution. They think no more of selling their bodies than I would think of editing papers. They know that puberty equips them with the toys most men value most, and given a choice between a husband who will likely treat her violently in a house with a dirt floor and a pimp who will protect her and provide her with fine food and clothing, she'll take the pimp.

I was shaken again in Sunday school when a friend said that "there are more slaves today than in any time in history," by which he meant sex slaves. I didn't press for details, but I gather from other things I've read that we are talking not about those who enter the trade willingly, like the girls in Thailand, nor about those reduced to it like Fantine—not that these situations aren't reprehensible enough—but about those abducted and forced either to engage in sexual activity against their will for the profit of their captors or to risk being punished or even killed if they try to escape.

How important is this situation to the Christian community at large? Obviously not very, since this statement was news to us, yet it has been true for some time. How important is it likely to be to us as we go forward?

One of the first lessons I learned as a new Christian is that we can tell what our priorities are by looking at how we spend our time and how we spend our money. Our budgets and our calendars are the truest indicators of our priorities. "They may not believe what you say, but they'll always believe what you do."

Since most people would look first to government, specifically the police, to solve the problem of sexual slavery, let's look at police priorities. How important is ending sexual slavery to the police?

My first mental picture of a policeman is a guy sitting in a cruiser waiting for someone to exceed the posted speed limit or roll through a stop sign. Why is he not out looking for sex slaves? Because it's more important to issue tickets for activities that have not harmed anyone than for activities that are intrinsically harmful.

Closer to the sex trade, of course, is the work of the vice squad. But again, instead of going after those who abduct and enslave their victims, they concentrate on the voluntary sex trade, even to the point of dressing as prostitutes in sting operations. So stopping voluntary sexual activity is more important than stopping sexual slavery.

All of this pales, of course, in comparison to the war on drugs. A friend and his co-workers were on break from their job painting center stripes on highways when a police cruiser drove up, stopped, and asked them if they were connected with the land they were sitting on. The cops were working with a helicopter that had spied marijuana growing in a nearby field. Now I happen to know that it costs hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars an hour to fly helicopters. Need I point out that money spent looking for marijuana gardens cannot be spent freeing sexual slaves?

Add to these the wars overseas, and the bread and circuses of government "health" programs, Medicare, Social Security, and "income security", and you can see that our government considers sex slavery pretty small potatoes.

Slavery cannot exist without government consent. For evidence, look no further than the Fugitive Slave Law signed by none other than the Father of Our Country soon after he took office. Without that law, Harriet Tubman would have been, I don't know, a nuclear physicist, but certainly not the CEO of the Underground Railroad. And if nothing else, note that we consider her a hero because she worked against, not with, "the powers that be ... ordained of God."

Sexual slavery exists today because of, and certainly despite, government. Government, which necessarily entails the transfer of wealth from those who produce it to those who don't and the restriction of productive activity, for that reason alone causes the poverty that reduces the Fantines of the world to prostitution and gives the girls of northern Thailand (not to mention poorer nations) no better choice. No surprise is it, then,that government has done little and will likely do little, to end sexual slavery. Sexual slaves need neighbors who will work outside the system to bring them to freedom. One important first step is for those who would be those good neighbors to stop looking to the problem for the solution.


  1. Thank you, Henry, for a thought-provoking post and the uncomfortable questions you raise. There is so much to weep for as we represent Christ here in the world. My brother-in-law Mark Foshager has a passion for serving those trapped in the human trafficking and sex trade industry, and he works with International Teams. Here's a link: http://www.facebook.com/ITeamsUSA

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Beth!

    International Teams sounds like a great ministry. I learned more at www.iteams.us. Who knows -- if they can stand me, maybe I'll be one of them sometime!