The emotional, physical, and spiritual violence that we inflict on one other is a sign that something is amiss in our world. A study from the World Health Organization paints the terrible truth that sex workers have a heightened risk of HIV. The sex and drug industry “tear up women and use them ‘til they throw them out" as Rev. Rebecca Stevens, Executive Director of Magdalene Ministries, says. Magdalene is a recovery program in Nashville, Tenn. for women who have histories of substance abuse and prostitution. Stevens has helped countless women get off the streets and put their lives back together. Yet there are so many more in need. It is clear that something is persistently bent on the annihilation of our bodies and souls. What can we say or do?
One time I took a group of people in the drug rehab program to the local zoo. Most of our group had been to prison – some for years. Most were felons. Most of the women had been prostitutes as well as addicts. Most of them had been homeless, had lengthy criminal records and had, as a group, used virtually every drug — heroin, meth, crack cocaine — and had used every deception, scam, or theft to acquire their drugs. In short, they had been desperate in ways and to a degree most of us could never imagine. If you think a hungry man will commit extreme acts for food to keep from starving, an addict will commit acts a hundred times more extreme. There are few acts an addict will not do.
And yet, few of these former addicts had ever been to a zoo.
One of these people, a woman in her mid-40s, couldn’t contain her excitement as we walked into sight of the resident animals. She shrieked and ran from exhibit to exhibit — until she saw the elephants. We happened to catch the trainer as he was giving a little question-and-answer time. This woman had endless, little kid-type questions about how elephants ate, slept, how they lived, and where they came from.
Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.
The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that nearly 30 million women, children, and men are enslaved around the world today. Their slavery has many forms. For millions, especially women and girls, it is prostitution, forced marriage, or other sexual and reproductive exploitation. Others - an estimated 16.4 million - are forced into labor in spheres ranging from domestic work and agriculture to construction and manufacturing. Others are tricked, kidnapped, and/or sold for illegal adoption, forced begging, armed combat, forced crime, and organ harvesting. As globalization continues to increase demand for cheap labor and movement across borders, human trafficking - sale and movement of people for forced labor, including prostitution - has become the “fastest growing international crime.” It nets traffickers billions of dollars in profit each year.
The smoke, the loud music, and the smell of perfumes trigger uncomfortable memories for Polly Wright.
But Wright ignores those reminders of her past as she and a troupe of women make their way to the strip club’s dressing room to deliver gift bags filled with fingernail polish, colorful earrings, and handwritten notes with messages such as “I’m praying for you.”
The bags also contain tubes of lip gloss with contact information where dancers can receive help and support. A finger can cover the tiny print so a pimp or abusive boyfriend can’t see it.
“We are in there saying, ‘You are loved, valued, and cherished, and you are not alone,’” said Wright, founder and executive director of We Are Cherished, a faith-based organization that regularly visits more than 50 adult entertainment venues throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Americans are used to thinking of slavery as a horror, yes, but one that was banished from these shores nearly 150 years ago. If only that were so.
The trafficking of men, women, and children for labor or sexual exploitation — or both — fuels an underground economy of misery in our midst in many major metropolitan areas and even in rural America. Immigrants without legal status, children in foster care — all those with tenuous community roots — are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the U.S. and that the average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim here is 13 to 14 years old. According to the DOJ, a pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and the average pimp controls four to six girls. The United Nations estimates that traffickers generate more than $9 billion within the U.S. for both labor and sex trafficking.
A small delicate silver cross hangs around Mint’s neck, a charm she reaches for nervously from time to time as she speaks.
Mint is her nickname, an Anglicized version of the long Thai name she was given and would rather not make public. As a former prostitute, the 24-year-old is concerned about bringing shame to her family, though she says everyone in her village in the northeastern province of Issan — a poor agricultural region along the border with Cambodia and Laos — would assume, or simply know, she had to be doing sex work to send money back home.
Everyone in Bangkok knows how it works. Many of the countless massage parlors, go-go bars, and karaoke joints peppered throughout the city are frequently thinly veiled fronts for prostitution. Heavily made-up girls hang around in the periphery of joints catering to Western tourists.
Controversial radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has apologized for his awful comments against Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who spoke to Congress in support of a health-care mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Fluke came to national attention when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee refused to allow her to speak at a hearing on the issue.
The refusal led Democratic women on the committee to ask: “Where are the women?”
Later, Fluke testified at a non-official forum organized by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. At this forum, Fluke spoke about the importance of hormonal contraception medication in treating other conditions that affect women’s reproductive health. Not all birth control pills are used for contraception. There was nothing about her testimony that comes anywhere close to the portrayal advanced by Limbaugh.
I have written about the clash of rights between religious liberty and equal protection under the law for women elsewhere, so I will not labor the point here.
No matter the reasons for Limbaugh’s objection to the mandate, clearly he has failed to learn one of the principle moral lessons that Jesus taught: “Judge not, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
I have said and say again that whenever we make a judgment, we reveal more about ourselves than about the person against whom we are passing judgment.
Last week Alec Baldwin, host of WNYC’s Here’s the Thing, featured an interview with Rob Morris, president and co-founder of Love 146, an organization that fights sex trafficking and works to care for victims.
In this half hour conversation, Morris shares the deeply horrifying experience of going into a brothel as a secret investigator, the evils of this multi-billion dollar industry, the exploitation of children at home and abroad, preventative measures for change and education, and how his work is impacting his family.