I, along with the rest of the nation, have watched in horror this past week as the details of the Jaycee Dugard captivity emerge. Very little angers me as much as hearing about the sexual assault of children. While I generally favor justice that restores criminals, cases like this almost make me want to support the death penalty, or at least slow, painful castration for rapists. I can hardly imagine the damage done to Jaycee and the years of healing she and her family now face.
That said, I am a bit disturbed as to why this case has captured the media's (and my) attention and outrage. It is of course horrific, but it is hardly unique. Thousands of girls around the world face similar terrors every day. Children are kidnapped off the streets in Africa, drugged on trains in India, or sold by uncles in Cambodia and end up as captive sex slaves in brothels around the world -- including in the U.S. At the Not for Sale site you can read the story of Srey Neang, a young girl sold to a Karaoke bar owner who repeatedly raped her and forced her to service up to 10 men a day. Once when the police raided the club, this 15-year-old's "rescuers" charged her with prostitution and put her in jail until her owner bought her back. At the Polaris Project site one can hear the story of Katya, a 20-year-old Ukrainian girl who thought she had landed a waitressing job in America. But instead she found herself in captivity in Detroit, forced to work in a strip club and locked into a tiny apartment with other women. Fear of getting caught as an illegal immigrant and imprisoned as a prostitute bought their silence.
Theirs is a story common to thousands of women and children, but those stories don't make the 24/7 news channels. Maybe it's because they aren't cute little white girls from middle-class families. Maybe because Jaycee seems so "girl next door" and these other women seem worlds away. I have a feeling the guys visiting the massage parlors or the bachelor parties at the strip clubs don't see the girls there (often trafficked slaves) as sentimentally as the nation does Jaycee. But shouldn't we be just as outraged at the captivity and rape of each of these girls as we are about Jaycee Dugard? I think we are right to be outraged and disgusted by what was done to her, but I don't want that anger to simmer down just because she is now safe. There are girls all over the world, many of them in our local U.S. neighborhoods, that are still living that day-to-day terror. They need rescue too.
So I hope this news coverage of Jaycee Dugard is not just the next sensational story to capture our attention after the death of Michael Jackson. I hope it is a wake-up call for Americans that there are girls being treated as chattel in our very midst. They may not all be cute white girls kidnapped from bus stops, but they are all someone's daughter and children of God. Their rape, captivity, and exploitation should be making us outraged and causing us to do whatever we can to restore their lives too.
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.