On March 28th, the Acton Institute hosted an important event for our local community. Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan brought together representatives from Michigan’s state government and local community activists to shine a light on the very real and growing problem of human trafficking in West Michigan (and beyond). The event was organized by Acton’s own Elise Hilton (who as written extensively on the subject of human trafficking here on the PowerBog), and featured a panel consisting of Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Isaacs, who worked with Attorney General Bill Schuette to produce Michigan’s recent report on the subject; State Senator Judy Emmons, the Michigan Legislature’s leading voice on Human Trafficking; human trafficking survivor and founder of Sacred Beginnings Leslie King; Andy Soper of the Manassah Project at Wedgewood Christian Services; and Becky McDonald of Women At Risk International. You can view a short highlight reel from the event below; the full presentation is available here.
As much as progressives balk at the “imposition” of religious morality and the church in public and social spaces, secular humanism’s moral relativism is not working in America and continues to leave children vulnerable to profound evil. For example, the Urban Institute recently released a report on the economy of America’s sex industry — and the numbers are astounding.
The Urban Institute’s study investigated the scale of the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) in eight major US cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Across cities, the UCSE’s worth was estimated between $39.9 and $290 million in 2007, but decreased since 2003 in all but two cities. In the study, interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers, and law enforcement revealed the dynamics central to the underground commercial sex trade.
Here are some of the key findings regarding those who manage the sex economy:
Acton Communications Specialist Elise Hilton joined host Shelly Irwin today on the WGVU Morning Show in Grand Rapids, Michigan to discuss Acton’s upcoming moderated panel discussion on the issue of human trafficking, Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan. Take a listen to the interview via the audio player below, make sure to listen to the podcast on the topic here, and if you’re able, register for the event that takes place on March 28th right here at the Acton Building’s Mark Murray Auditorium.
The latest edition of Radio Free Acton takes a look at the awful practice of human trafficking in advance of Acton’s upcoming moderated panel discussion on the issue, Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan. Acton Director of Communications John Couretas speaks with Elise Hilton, whose name you’ll recognize from our blog, and who has authored a great many posts drawing attention to just this topic.
Give the podcast a listen via the audio player below, and be sure to register for the March 28th panel discussion as well
Or at least that is what some House Democrats claim. Despite the fact that scientists have yet to conclude that climate change due to human impact on the environment is a proven reality, these Democrats are convinced that it not only exists, it forces women into prostitution.
David Harsanyi at Human Events has this to say:
[N]othing causes more transactional sex than poverty, and few conditions bring more poverty to women around the world than limiting capitalism and free trade. One wonders if a poor woman in say, Bangladesh, would be happier and healthier with a car, an air conditioner and processed food rather than that light carbon footprint they now carry? I wish they had a choice.
It is difficult to imagine that driving rain, warmer weather or an ice storm would force a woman into prostitution. It is poverty that provokes women and families to make desperate choices. It is also the increase in human-trafficking, one of the most lucrative forms of criminal activity world-wide. The Guardian illustrates: (more…)
The whole idea, pioneered by you-know-who and enabled by you-know-who-else, is that illicit sexual behavior and the scandals resulting therefrom can be brazened out by the insistence that they are irrelevant to the discharge of public duties. As I argue in my book, it’s all part of a new ethical calculus concluding that — uniquely in the constellation of virtues — sexual morality is a subjective and purely personal matter that’s of relevance only to “religious” people (or else prurient and “judgmental” ones), even when it impacts the public.
All of us are human, all of us are sinners, no one is perfect. Certainly, there but for the grace of God go any of us. But that doesn’t mean that there should be no standards. In particular, it’s unfortunate if and when public officials conclude that sexual behavior that’s deeply disgraceful (not to mention illegal) doesn’t merit resignation. It degrades our culture, makes others complicit in condoning conduct that shouldn’t be condoned, and normalizes behavior that’s wrong.
As has become the norm, there are also plenty of voices (here’s one) decrying the fact that Spitzer may be forced to resign over a sexual indiscretion, that the worst he’s guilty of his hypocrisy, and that prostitution is essentially a “victimless crime.” It remains to be seen whether or not Spitzer will step down as a result of the scandal, but in the meantime Jordan Ballor offers some food for thought in this post, which looks at the differing standards that seem to apply to business and church leaders on the one hand and governmental officials on the other when sexual indiscretions are revealed. And be sure to take a look at the David Hess essay that Jordan references in his post as well.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Should Spitzer step down, or is his indiscretion not that serious?
This is one of the images I see on days I drive home from school:
Yes, that’s a shared storefront for a health spa featuring “rub downs” and “American” girls, along with an adult “super store.” Nothing untoward about that connection. Nope, nothing at all.
And even though it touts “American” girls, this parlor isn’t located in a country like Thailand, which was noted by the US State Department as “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.”
In a statement in 2004, Mohamed Y. Mattar, Co-Director of the Protection Project of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, talked about cases in which “massage parlors have been shut down after it was discovered that they were fronts for houses of prostitution. The women working in those establishments did not have massage therapist licenses and traveled from New Orleans to Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Biloxi (Mississippi) and Grand Rapids (Michigan) to engage in prostitution.”
And as the icing on the cake, these shops are located on this street:
The adventure in cognitive dissonance leading to a street named “Division” to become the site for honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is a whole other story. At least they got one thing right: MLK is “above” division.
Lawler discusses the increasingly broad push to commodify the human body, especially in the context of organ sales. Lawler writes of “the creeping libertarianism that characterizes our society as a whole. As we understand ourselves with ever greater consistency as free individuals and nothing more, it becomes less clear why an individual’s kidneys aren’t his property to dispose of as he pleases.”
I myself have written elsewhere and on another related topic challenging the “ultimate right of an individual to his or her own life” and therefore to the body. I make the case that the right of possession over one’s body is not an ultimate or absolute right in any ontological sense, given the status of our relationship to God as creator.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some more relative, less absolute, “political” right of an individual over his or her body. It simply means that libertarian rhetoric needs to be toned down and appropriately tuned to the question of the prudence of political intervention in areas like physician-assisted suicide, kidney sales, and prostitution. This would include some rather less grandiose claims than an “ultimate right of an individual.”
Ritchie gets at this latter point very well in his analysis of the typical response to “creepy libertarianism,” that is, “creepy statism.”
“To try to make an inhuman state the tool for humanizing our world is to fail to see what the modern state is. If you believe in bodily integrity, use your own body to persuade your neighbors not to sell their kidneys. And then be prepared to listen to them as they explain why they wish to do what they plan to do,” he writes.
“To pander to this world is to fornicate against you,” confesses Augustine to God. The worldly culture of today seems to be trying its best to actualize Augustine’s observation in literal terms. In a recent edition of New York Magazine, Naomi Wolf writes about “The Porn Myth,” and cites David Amsden who says that pornography is now the “wallpaper” of our lives.
Exhibit A in support of Amsden’s thesis is the latest issue of GIANT Magazine, which bills itself as “the ultimate entertainment magazine.” Reviewing all aspects of contemporary pop culture, GIANT offers insights into the latest gadgets, flicks, and fashion. It is generally not as explicitly titillating as pop journals like FHM, Maxim, or Stuff.
In the December/January issue of GIANT, we get the following three items. First, “Obscene of the Crime,” an overview of a government crackdown on Florida pornographers. Aliya S. King reports that in Pensacola, Florida, Clinton Raymond McCowen was part of a trio arrested “on charges of racketeering–conducting a criminal enterprise by engaging in prostitution and the manufacture and sale of obscene material.” King bemoans the priorities of law enforcement, sneering at the priority US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has placed on “not drug trafficking, not white-collar crime, but obscenity.”
And just so you know what constitutes the legal difference between pornography and prostitution, Veronica Monet, a porn activist working to decriminalize prostitution, says, “Pornography is when a third party pays two people, presumably actors, to have sex with each other. How it distinguishes itself from prostitution is that he man having sex with the woman didn’t pay that woman. Instead, another person, the producer and/or director of that film, paid both of those people.” King writes that a conviction of McCowen “could begin to tumble that distinction.”
“When the attorney general,” writes King, “decides to focus attention on pornographers and obscenity and establishes a bureaucracy to tackle those objectives, cases will be made.” Lawrence Walters, McCowen’s attorney, says, “They can just pick anyone out of a barrel.” (More on federal action to fight child pornography here, based on photos of minors that are clothed, but include “lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine.” HT: Constitutionally Correct. The topic of the sexualization of youth in pop culture deserves an entire post of its own.)
Second, in this same issue of GIANT we are graced with an interview with Snoop Dogg (recently arrested after appearing on NBC’s “The Tonight Show”). When asked, “What king of father are you?” to his three kids, Snoop responds: “I don’t do it how normal people do it. I’m a friend more than a father. I’m the kind to let my kids taste champagne at my birthday–they didn’t like it.” Later on GIANT inquires of Snoop, “What have you told your sons about women?” His replies by citing a verse from one of his more famous anthems, “[Women] ain’t $#!@ but hos and tricks.” (He didn’t say whether or not he also teaches his kids the next lines in the song, which are rather more pornographically explicit.)
And finally, this same issue of GIANT features a 10 page spread on female porn stars who have gone from working in front of the camera to working behind it. Tera Patrick, a paragon of entrepreneurial spirit, says, “When I got into the industry, I made millions for everyone else. Now I make them for myself.” The features include vital statistics, such as the number of “sex scenes performed” by each of these “giants of the skin trade.”
does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.
Pornography is part and parcel of the commoditization of sex, and so perhaps the rather arbitrary line between pornography and prostitution needs to be challenged, or in King’s words, “tumbled.”
Wolf also notes that traditional morality is in fact more socially beneficial than a pornified culture:
In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.
Wolf worries, in part, that pornography makes real women seem less appealing by comparison with the illusion of the adult film.
Expat Teacher, writing at Good Will Hinton, responds to Wolf’s essay and says, “I’d like to see Christians acknowledge the ubiquitous of porn and the real pull of that temptation, while offering a positive alternative. Sex with a little mystery and discovery is a lot more fun and interesting than a clinical rut in the hay.”
Well, Expat Teacher, I’m with you. And the work of XXXChurch is a good place to start. We don’t all need to agree on the effectiveness and desirability of all available means to combat the pornification of culture to respect the work of XXXChurch’s ministry (their blog is located here). One of the things XXXChurch is doing is work to get porn stars out of the industry, through what they call the “Esther Fund.”
“There is life after porn,” both for the performers and for the consumers. That’s a pretty good alternative perspective to the one offered by GIANT: victimize or be victimized. For as Augustine also confessed to God, “to be estranged in a spirit of lust, and lost in its darkness, that is what it means to be far away from your face.”
We’re working through the meaning of the tenth anniversary of welfare reform, debating important ‘next phase’ issues like marriage and fatherhood and what those mean to helping people leave poverty…permanently. That debate about government’s appropriate role in addressing social need is important. At least equally important is the work or private citizens at the local level, ‘on the street’–figuratively and literally.
A Way Out Victim Assistance, a program of Citizens for Community Values of Memphis run by George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley, is designed “to assist any woman, regardless of race or religious preference, who desires to leave her profession in the sex for sale industry, namely topless dancers and prostitutes, to permanently escape the industry and re-enter society and the work force with a value system that promotes a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
NPR’s program Marketplace posted an interview on Tuesday about this same great program (audio here): “Citizens for Community Values started as an anti-pornography organization in 1992 and began ministering to strippers three years later. Now it helps all sex workers leave the business. Carol and George get referrals. Sometimes the girls call them directly. And sometimes they drive right up to a hooker on the street and hand her a business card, which is dangerous. Both for them and for her.”
Local help on the street truly can make a life-changing difference for another human being.