I read this quote last night:
Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else. – Kathryn Stockett
Great words for writers from the author of The Help, an inspiring story of a woman who cared enough about the black servants in white households in the South to hear their stories and write about how they were treated.
I won’t pretend this blog post compares to that fabulous work of fiction. But I do want to write about something that disturbs me.
A couple of weeks ago, our local paper published this article, about prostitution arrests in our township, at motels I pass by almost every day. I reposted the article on Facebook, commenting that none of those arrested had that Julia-Roberts-Pretty-Woman look about them. Instead, they look desperate. Beaten by life. Weary. One friend wondered why no one publishes pictures of their “customers.” A good question, indeed.
What bothers me is the way we, as a society, view prostitution. The comments on the story were heartbreaking. Some people said it was a “victimless” crime, implying we shouldn’t spend our government resources on arresting and prosecuting for it. Others joked about the name of one of the women and the age of the “ringleaders.” And some dubbed it “the oldest profession.”
I didn’t always care about this. I watched Pretty Woman plenty of times in my high school and college days, never once thinking that maybe it glorified prostitution. Or desensitized us to its effects.
Prostitution is closely related to sex trafficking, which is a crime and contributes to this staggering number: 27 million people enslaved around the world. Today. (Learn 8 facts about sex trafficking here.)
And it doesn’t just happen somewhere else. It happens here.
Prostitution is often dismissed because it’s seen as a choice. But what if you were trafficked, forced into prostitution throughout your teenage years, and when you had outlived your usefulness, you had nowhere to go? What if prostitution seems like a good choice because at least you’d be getting the money now, unlike when you were trafficked and saw none of it?
That may not be every prostitute’s story, but it’s surely the story of some.
As for it being a “victimless” crime, I can’t agree with that. A person who hands over money to another person for sex is essentially asserting power over that person. And power can make people do things they’d never imagine they could do. Does money give a man the right to beat a woman? Because that happens.
The same day I read the local news story about the prostitution arrests, I read a story about a teacher in a nearby county who was arrested for having a relationship with a 17-year-old student. The comments on this story were very different from the first story. Some comments said they wished a teacher like her would have been at their school in high school. Others wondered why she didn’t wait till the student was 18 and couldn’t be charged. And others dismissed it as a useless arrest because they were “consenting adults.”
I’m not going to argue about the law. I just present these two stories as illustrations of how we, as a society, view sex. We don’t seem to care that people are mistreated as long as money is exchanged. We don’t hold responsible the men and women who solicit these services (because really, how would we know who they are?) and instead we punish girls as young as 17 for committing a crime. Maybe things would change if we offered help to the prostitutes, instead of jail time, and punished the “customers” instead. And we applaud a 17-year-old boy who has sex with a teacher.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have any answers.
And I’m afraid to hit “publish” on this post because I could be accused of being a prude or naive or ignorant. But I will hit “publish” because I’m not okay with people being sold for sex, no matter who “benefits.” I’m not okay with a culture that winks at an inappropriate relationship between a teenager and an adult while turning a blind eye to teenagers being repeatedly sold for sex elsewhere in the world.
Consider this statistic:
According to the California Child Welfare Council, kids as young as 10 are being peddled for sex every day in Los Angeles County … the average life expectancy of children who enter the sex trade is seven years. This means, on average, a child forced into prostitution at age 12 will be dead by 19. (Source: http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20130902/a-call-to-crack-down-on-those-who-pay-for-child-sex )
I wasn’t alive in the Sixties for the so-called sexual revolution. But I think we need another one. Only instead of advocating free love, we need to advocate for freedom. Men and women, young and old, need to know that sexual slavery is not okay. It’s not a joke. It’s not someone else’s problem.
I’m never quite sure what to do when I get all riled about this. Fortunately, there are organizations doing the hard work of rescuing, advocating, preventing, caring and educating.
Here are three I’ve found helpful in guiding my own actions:
I’ll leave you with this quote.
— Intl Justice Mission (@IJM) November 11, 2013