I've gotten used to popular TV shows going the after-school special route and highlighting some issue or another. Granted, it boosts their ratings, but it also brings attention to issues that need attention. So I was intrigued recently when the CSI franchise did a story-arc across all three shows that focused on the issue of human trafficking. It pulled no punches. They showed the horror involved in trafficking and what a complicated system it is. From moving girls around to sell for sex, or as wombs, or for body parts there are a lot of people making money off of the exploitation of others. And there are so many people involved in such a large and complex system, that there are no easy solutions to the problems. In other words, the CSIs weren't able to solve the crime and and have all the perpetrators behind bars by the end of the 60-minute episode. The writers were smart enough not to trivialize the issue by giving it a neat solution. But they were also smart enough to make trafficking about real people. These girls aren't just nameless faces -- they are someone's daughter. And even if those working for justice can't fix the entire system, they can do something to help one girl, and that is significant.
They also hit the (obvious) nail on the head in trying to explain why this happens -- basically, because the demand is there. Trafficking isn't just some evil crime committed by sociopaths; it's done by corrupt and greedy guys who know that there is a high demand for human flesh. If the businessmen at conferences in Vegas weren't looking for sex on demand, then kidnapping, abusing, raping, and breaking women into submissive prostitutes wouldn't be such a lucrative business. But evil and injustice continue to exist because we demand it. From cheap sex to cheap clothes or candy, we demand that others be oppressed for our benefit.
At one point in the CSI episode, the bad guy of the week, a Russian pimp (played by the amazing Mark Sheppard), tried to justify why girls supposedly choose to be prostitutes. He said, "inside, [all women] are whores. They will love to hear the things they want to believe -- they are so beautiful, so fascinating, so special that they deserve the best of everything, the finest clothes, champagne, and jewels that money can buy. And you know how you get the whore to emerge? Tell her there is an easy way to get all of this." His words were ironic coming after the unfolding story of girls being kidnapped, drugged, raped, beaten, and murdered by traffickers. Instead of describing the girls, they more accurately described the traffickers and the johns. But they also describe all of us who have found easy ways to get whatever we want even if it is at the expense of others. We will sell our souls because we believe we deserve the best of everything.
The sad thing is, there are no CSIs out there working to put us behind bars so that the oppression stops. We are not going to be punished for benefiting from crimes like human trafficking and slave labor. And we wont be rewarded either for choosing to step outside of systems of oppression. There is no carrot or stick when it comes to making a deliberate choice to love others. We just have to decide that we care enough for someone else's daughter or son to stop demanding that they be oppressed so that we can have everything we desire.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.