Thursday, May 6, 2010

Slavery is not Sexy

In my review of Tempted by Megan Hart I mentioned briefly a conversation in the book that disturbed me because of it's implications regarding child sex slavery. In the novel, Alex has just returned from Asia to visit his long lost best friend, James, and his wife, Anne. The novel details the love affair between these three over the course of the summer. The following excerpt is the discussion that bothered me. To set the scene up: James, Anne, and Alex have just had dinner. They're sitting around talking. Anne is sitting on her husband, James's lap covered by a blanket. James is slowly teasing Anne under the blanket. It's a pretty hot scene until this portion of the conversation:

James's hands, Alex's voice as he told us stories about living in Asia. About the sex shops there, where you could buy anything you wanted.

"I thought Singapore didn't have sex shops. I thought they were illegal." How did my husband know about Singaporean sex laws?

"In Singapore, yeah. . . but not in other places. There are always places to find it, if you want it."

"And you wanted." James's voice had grown hoarse.

The night had grown downright cold, though beneath our blanket James I were hot enough to start a fire. Alex didn't seem to mind the chill. He'd buttoned his shirt up to the throat but seemed otherwis
e unaffected.

"Who wouldn't, man?" came Alex's shadow-voiced answer. "Find a girl, find a boy. One of each. . ."

I had to stop reading at this point.
I'm not sure what about this is supposed to be sexy. Especially in light of the fact that most of the girls, boys, and women available in said sex shops (in Singapore or elsewhere in the world) are not there by choice. In many cases families have sold their own daughters into the sex industry. When I read this portion of the novel the only thing I could think about was the story I'd heard about a girl known only as #146. The following is the story of how the non-profit organization Love146 ,dedicated to ending child sex slavery and exploitation, got their name. (Emphasis is mine.)

In 2002, the co-founders of Love 146 traveled to South East Asia on an exploratory trip to determine how they could serve in the fight against child sex trafficking. In one experience, a couple of our co-founders were taken undercover with investigators to a brothel, where they witnessed children being sold for sex. This was their experience. This is the story that changed our lives.

"We found ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with predators in a small room, looking at little girls through a pane of glass. All of the girls wore red dresses with a number pinned to their dress for identification. They sat, blankly watching cartoons on TV. They were vacant, shells of what a child should be. There was no light in their eyes, no life left. Their light had been taken from them. These children...raped each night... seven, ten, fifteen times every night. They were so young. Thirteen, eleven… it was hard to tell. Sorrow covered their faces with nothingness. Except one girl. One girl who wouldn’t watch the cartoons. Her number was 146. She was looking beyond the glass. She was staring out at us, with a piercing gaze. There was still fight left in her eyes. There was still life left in this girl...

"...All of these emotions begin to wreck you. Break you. It is agony. It is aching. It is grief. It is sorrow. The reaction is intuitive, instinctive. It is visceral. It releases a wailing cry inside of you. It elicits gut-level indignation. It is unbearable. I remember wanting to break through the glass. To take her away from that place. To scoop up as many of them as I could into my arms. To take all of them away. I wanted to break through the glass to tell her to keep fighting. To not give up. To tell her that we were coming for her…"

“Because we went in as part of an ongoing, undercover investigation on this particular brothel, we were unable to immediately respond. Evidence had to be collected in order to bring about a raid, and eventually justice on those running the brothel. It is an immensely difficult problem when an immediate response cannot address an emergency. Some time later, there was a raid on this brothel and children were rescued. But the girl who wore #146 was no longer there. We do not know what happened to her, but we will never forget her. She changed the course of all of our lives." -Rob Morris, President and Co-founder

We have taken her number so that we remember why this all started. So that we must tell her story. It is a number that was pinned to one girl, but that represents the millions enslaved. We wear her number with honor, with sorrow, and with a growing hope. Her story can be a different one for so many more.

Child sex slavery falls under the larger crime of human trafficking which, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime "is the fastest growing means by which people are enslaved, the fastest growing international crime, and one of the largest sources of income for organised crime" and is the 3rd largest organized crime following drug and arms trafficking (UNODC). Human trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as:

(a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. - US Department of State

Human trafficking is in no uncertain terms, modern day slavery. It's estimated that 27 million people worldwide are currently enslaved due to human trafficking. This is more than any point during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It's horrifying to know this is million's of people's reality.

This little public service announcement was definitely prompted by the above scene in
Tempted. However, this issue has been continually brought to my attention over the last year or so and I feel this is not a coincidence. First, I heard about it through the church I was attending. They actually had an entire weekend workshop dedicated to the issue, which I was unable to attend. Then one of the musicians from this same church became a vocal activist and as her fan on Facebook I would occasionally see her updates on the issue. She has a moving video to her song Priceless written for the victims of human trafficking (check out the video below). Then one rainy Saturday, I was flipping through the channels and stopped on our local Columbus channel highlighting Human Trafficking in the state of Ohio. Then, I heard about the Price of Life even at Ohio State which, again, I was unable to attend.

All of this leads me to believe this is a fight I can and should be involved with. I don't know how to make a difference but I figure a post on my blog, in response to section of a book that, in my opinion glamorizes the issue, to raise awareness is a start.

You might notice I gave
Tempted a rating of 4 chocolate covered strawberries. I really enjoyed the book, I did. However, this conversation between characters really bothered me long after finishing the book. While I thought the novel, overall, was excellent, sexy, and emotionally engaging. This disturbing discussion really took me out of the book. The scene was really hot. If I were a dude, I'd have had major woody but this conversation? A complete turn-off. I know there are many books within the romance genre that deal with the issue of human trafficking. However, most of those books are not condoning the practice. That is what set this conversation apart for me. This conversation was attempt to make this type of behavior sexy. It failed. Slavery is not sexy folks.

Priceless music video by Heather Evans:

For more information about the issue of human trafficking please check out these resources.

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