Book unmasks global sexual exploitation

By Janice G. Raymond
Published by Potomac Books, $29.95

When is the last time you talked about prostitution? Not a Choice, Not a Job by Janice Raymond presents an excellent opportunity to consider a topic often neglected, but adversely affecting society and families, typically with passive complacency and silent complicity. The book makes clear that there has been a moral failure of all sectors of society to deal with the violence and degradation that affects primarily women and girls within systems of sexual exploitation and, in particular, within the system of prostitution.

Despite themes of sex and prostitution, the reader should not expect voyeuristic stories that will titillate or keep pages turning. The subject matter is difficult and repulsive. The author is an academic and a co-founder of an anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization. The prose is encased in intense research, pointed analysis, and tough extrapolation of human experience from both direct field experience and many years in the classroom.

The book provides a solid basis to understand the systems of prostitution and to confront our own avoidance of this topic of social justice. An overview of the book's contents will clarify, I hope, why I recommend this book for personal reflection as well as for discussion in faith groups, book clubs and parental gatherings.

While readers may scan sections of the book according to interest, no one should bypass the fascinating introduction. It is an eye-opening historical exposition that demonstrates the parallel between the growing phenomenon of global trafficking of humans (with its underlying and enabling system of prostitution) and the transatlantic slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries. The historical dynamics and justifications challenge us to realize that slavery has not been abolished; the form has changed. The work of abolitionists continues.

Chapter by chapter, Raymond's work enlightens. First, she unmasks deep myths about prostitution that keep us silent and powerless in the face of this longstanding abuse. Some cultures accept rationalizations of prostitution, suggesting that its degradation can be called empowering, if it is "freely chosen." Even so, Raymond makes clear that prostitution is not driven by the oft-blamed victim, the woman (or man) who is purchased, but by the purchaser, whose greater wealth and power, including gender-based power, ensure that the system thrives in a global market economy, the same economy being persistently critiqued by Pope Francis.

The promoters of prostitution (pimps, brothel owners, etc.) are global marketers who render the purchase of woman's bodies an acceptable behavior for male entertainment and for physical release in party formats, college breaks and sporting events. They persuade us to accept men's entitlement to purchase sex as a social norm. Any parent of a male or female child should read about the demand for prostitution and include it in the required topics of sex and drugs for serious family discussion.

Moving from individual dynamics to national and global policies, Raymond uses the Netherlands to expose how embedded prostitution practices are within national policy, even while demonstrating that alternative policies, such as in Sweden, give hope that another world is possible. Such political and policy choices are not magic; they are the work of informed citizens who want a society with human dignity for all. It is clear that this is not easy, as the author goes on to weave a taut and bleak fabric of social attitudes, economic structures and militaristic realties that have strengthened the profiteers of the prostitution of women and girls.

A recent article in the United Nations Foundation's UN Wire reported, "The profits gained from forced labor, human trafficking and slavery are producing profit of $150 billion annually, or more than three times the estimated profit in 2005." This is the result of normalizing, legalizing or ignoring the activity of pimping, owning, procuring and using women for sexual purposes.

The final chapter, gratefully, gives some relief by offering "good practices" that can lead to global change. Parents, activists and persons concerned about human welfare will want to attach their energy to effective practices and policies, suitable to their own circumstances, so as to move us to a new social reality.

Earlier this year, when 200 girls in Nigeria were kidnapped, a large social media campaign called them "our girls." The truth is, we have girls and women missing in every society and very close to home -- on college campuses, in neighborhoods of poverty, in suburbia, in indigenous communities, around global sporting events, in tourist destinations, during college breaks, near military bases. To talk about prostitution and understand the global phenomenon of sexual exploitation, there is no better starting point than Not a Choice, Not a Job.

[Sr. Clare Nolan is training facilitator for the International Justice Peace Office of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.]

This story appeared in the Nov 21-Dec 4, 2014 print issue under the headline: Book unmasks global sexual exploitation .

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