Tag: poverty

With Dignity: Combating Sex Slavery

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

Like discrimination, slavery is viewed as something of the past, yet is still widely prevalent today. Sex slavery exists worldwide and takes different forms in different places. What form does it take here in the United States? Prostitution.

“But prostitutes earn money,” you say. “They choose to enter prostitution. They could leave anytime they want if they didn’t like it.”

Oh, really?

Do you call it earning money when everything you earn is taken away from you? Do you call it choice when you are told to sell your body by someone you love, who says they love you? Can you really leave a situation in which you are threatened with bodily harm if you leave?

What many people do not realize is that prostitution, in practice, is nothing short of slavery. Here is one vastly oversimplified example of how prostitution works in the U.S.

You are a young girl when a close family member begins to sexually abuse you. Over time, you come to feel that your body is not worth anything, so you are not worth anything. One day, a charming young man falls in love with you.

You move in with him because finally someone loves you. But one day, he asks you to sell your body so he can pay the rent. You love him too, so you agree. It quickly turns into a nightmare. He takes the money you’ve earned prostituting yourself and beats you for not earning enough.

You are scared to leave because he might hurt you, but you also stay because you love him. You are trapped.

If this seems twisted, it is. But it is also sadly realistic. Most women who become prostitutes were physically or sexually abused as a child. Many women are drawn into prostitution by men who pretend to fall in love with them, and then ask them to sell their body.

Pimps rely on physical abuse and psychological coercion to control their prostitutes. If you don’t believe me, look at the U.S.’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2011.

Problems like this are extremely difficult to face. Because of this, and because we often truly believe it, we are quick to say that they have nothing to do with us. Because they have nothing to do with us, there is nothing we can do about them.

As a complex problem fed by many factors such as childhood abuse, poverty and culture, there are more things we can do to address sex slavery than we realize.

How might one address sex slavery? The most obvious way is to not participate in the system perpetuating it. Sweden has done a fantastic job of minimizing sex slavery by arresting people who buy sex. The idea is simple: if fewer people buy sex, people will stop selling it.

Amazingly, it works! Sweden has seen a dramatic decline in sex slavery since outlawing the purchase of sex in 1999. Another way to address sex slavery is to become informed and inform others about the problem.

If more people understood how prostitution works, perhaps it would be easier to find support for programs that aid victims of sex slavery. Volunteering at organizations supporting victims of sex trafficking, or even victims of physical and sexual abuse such as Harbor House is another way to combat sex slavery.

By addressing sex slavery, even indirectly, we are able to make a positive difference, no matter how small, because if we are able to help even one person, our efforts will have been completely worth it.

If you’d like to help fight sex traficking, sign up to volunteer at Harbor House on November 19 by emailing Susannah Maiken.

With Dignity: Freedom from Discrimination

Not too long ago, a Lawrentian said that America isn’t racist anymore. They pointed toward improvements such as desegregation, intermarriage and a general decrease in racist attitudes toward African Americans.

More recently, a Lawrentian told me they had just learned that women still don’t make as much money as men do in comparable positions.

In both cases, the Lawrentians seemed to view discrimination as a thing of the past. They seemed to think that because the civil rights and feminist movements happened, we are beyond racism and discrimination, even though African Americans and females are not the only groups that have been discriminated against in America.

They also implied an underlying attitude that America is beyond or above discrimination because of what it stands for. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true.

Discrimination in America is alive and well. In fact, it is flourishing. Most days, we don’t even think about it. Why not? Why might these Lawrentians be unaware of the breadth of discrimination today in America?

I could discuss the people perpetuating myths about the American Dream and America’s commitment to principles such as freedom and equality, but I think it’s much simpler than that. The reason we don’t see discrimination in America today is because its face is hidden.

Discrimination is not as obvious as it once was. We no longer relegate African Americans to the back of the bus. We no longer allow the Ku Klux Klan to roam through the streets. But we do allow other, more insidious forms of discrimination to permeate our society. Here are a few examples:

In forming barriers to safe, affordable housing, discrimination segregates entire sections of cities, setting up self-perpetuating cycles of poverty through discrimination in the realms of housing, education and jobs.

Discrimination creates landfills and factories in poor neighborhoods, sickening people who have no voice. It feeds unhealthy food to people who cannot afford healthy food while guaranteeing them a lower quality of health care.

It gives minorities an education that does not educate them not only because they live in neighborhoods with inferior schools, but because the language and methods of instruction offered in American schools often differ from the languages they speak and the methods of instruction used in their cultures.

Discrimination denies qualified workers good jobs, and when it allows them bad ones, it denies them equal pay and job security. It hides the faces of cultural minorities from equal representation in the mainstream media.

It fosters ignorance within history classes that fail to acknowledge differing viewpoints. It prosecutes some groups at higher rates than other groups while obstructing their access to quality legal counsel. The list goes on and on.

These phenomena might not be what we think of when we think about discrimination, yet they are indicative of the most prevalent forms of discrimination in America today. Many do not realize that discrimination exists not only within personal interactions, but also within the infrastructures of our society, in “the way things are.”

Some forms of discrimination are so institutionalized that the people perpetuating them are not even aware they are doing it. Yet in the end, it is not discrimination perpetuating itself, but people.

As people living in an America where discrimination is embedded in the infrastructure of “the way things are,” we need to think long and hard about our own roles in oppression. Perhaps we as individuals cannot change the schooling system, but we can as teachers decide to teach in ways that affirm differing viewpoints and treat students as human beings.

Maybe we as individuals cannot stop people from saying terrible things about and to other people, but we can choose to have conversations with our friends when they say such things. None of this is easy. The fact that doing these things might make a difference, even in just a few people’s lives, should be enough to make all the effort worth it.