25 May, 2009

The world's oldest oppression.

We recently had an anti-trafficking forum at work. Four months of planning and prep (mostly on me) culminated in 2 days of sessions, discussions, learning, interactions about what we can all do to end human trafficking.

Kevin Bales spoke on Friday night to open things up. It was one of the best talks I've ever heard. And it has more had to do with the fact that Bales, instead of being presumptuous, snobby or all knowing - was still just a man, who sees that we can end slavery in 25 years and will be in the trenches doing it with us. I appreciated that he managed to take this giant that is human trafficking and break it down. He managed to pull back the veil and show us the truth - that there is no all powerful giant, just something made of man that can be stopped.

We focused on the modern abolitionists (an overused analogy, I know). But we tied it back to one person - one person can do something, one person - you - has a role to play in all of this.

The organization I work for has an assessment center in SE-Asia. We get the girls immediately after they are pulled from the brothels - we do health assessments and get them medical care, we provide food, clothing, shelter - safety and start the healing process with those pulled from commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) or from abusive situations at home. It is hard work, and in someways, our staff confront the worse of the worse when it comes to CSE.

One overarching theme that struck me was the role men play. Beyond the obvious ones of traffickers and purchasers (and the only reason CSE exists - to satisfy their demand), men can have a positive role. In advocacy, in speaking up when men make a derogatory comment about women and reduce her to a piece of meat. They can mentor younger men to stay away from porn, to see women as people with personalities and dreams - which are more than to satisfy an urge men can control. The more we start raising up men who are making a positive difference and start setting that as the example, not the one of uncontrolled sexual urges, culminating in the "consensual" intercourse between two adults, one of whom is forced to be there because he paid for her (see how the logic doesn't follow through on that lie?!?!).

We have a hyper-sexualized culture, and it starts on Disney and goes through to Gray's Anatomy. We mockingly get mad when some "suggestive" photos of Miley Cyrus come out, but then don't get upset when the latest Ms. Spears dances around in next to nothing at 16, or every teen show on the WB portrays sex and the decision surrounding it in an entire consequence free way. We tells girls to be independent, but she is only "enough" if she attract a man with her sexuality and touch that part of his psyche. We tell men to be strong and dominant - but what about being faithful, protective, honoring?

CSE exists because of demand  - period. If we stopped purchasing it from playboy to porn to sexual acts there would be no CSE. It is that simple. People will shout, "it's the world's oldest profession." And I will say, to quote Kevin Bales, No, "it is the world's oldest oppression."