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Pornography/prostitution/trafficking are connected to other violence against women

It is not possible to separate prostitution from trafficking, or prostitution from other kinds of violence against women. Incest usually precedes prostitution, pornography teaches men how to treat women, and johns try out on prostituted women what they later subject their wives to. Since johns like “something new,” they buy trafficked women. This article by Bob Herbert connects the misogyny in US popular culture with the murders of schoolgirls in Pennsylvania.

Why Aren’t We Shocked?
By Bob Herbert
New York Times, October 16, 2006

“Who needs a brain when you have these?”

– -message on an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for young women

In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls.

Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories about the rape, murder and mutilation of women
and girls are staples of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls.

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby
women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?”

An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We’ve been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we’re still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels.

What have we learned since then? That there’s big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it’s never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually.

A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men.

“Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible,” said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the women’s advocacy group Equality Now.

That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7
billion mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like “Ravished Bride” and “Rough Sex — Where Whores Get Owned.”

Then, of course, there’s gangsta rap, and the video games where the players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”), and on and on.

You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa.


    Bought and Sold
    New York Times November 20, 2006
    When Mayor Shirley Franklin recently announced that the city would be cracking down on the pimps and johns who prey on under-age prostitutes, she also disclosed publicly for the first time that she had been molested when she was a young girl.
    Speaking at a gathering of reporters, local officials and civic leaders, the mayor spoke frankly about the incident, in which she was abused at the age of 10 by the father of a girlfriend. She then asked how many of the women in attendance had endured similar experiences. Several women in the room raised their hands.
    One of the most tightly kept secrets in the U.S. is the extent to which children are sexually exploited, not just by child pornographers and compulsive pedophiles, but by men who are viewed by their relatives, friends and neighbors as quintessentially solid citizens.
    In an interview on Friday, Ms. Franklin told me: “It seemed appropriate to reveal my story in that setting, because what we were trying to do is demonstrate that this can happen to anyone. Not only can it happen; it does happen to a lot of children.”
    Atlanta has become a major hub of commercial sex in the U.S. It’s a full-fledged sex-tourism destination, with thousands of strippers, prostitutes and other sex workers accommodating an endless stream of johns from around the country. Under-age girls (some as young as 10 and 11) are a significant part of that trade. Many of them were already carrying the scars of sexual molestation when they got into prostitution.
    A study of the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in Atlanta, released a year ago by the Atlanta Women’s Agenda, an advisory group formed at the mayor’s request, said:
    “Atlanta, being a convention and sports event center, has a thriving “adult entertainment” industry: strip clubs, lingerie and sex shops, escort services, massage parlors. At the same time, Atlanta generates its own lost battalions of emotionally and physically abandoned children and is a magnet for such children from outlying areas. These children are vulnerable to the pimps and their recruiters, but the pimp would have no interest in the children if there were no demand.”
    Ms. Franklin, who is 61, is trying to jump-start a cultural change that will expand awareness of the widespread sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta and foster an attitude throughout the city that it is not to be tolerated.
    It is beyond unusual for a mayor, especially the mayor of a city that depends as heavily on tourism as Atlanta, to shine a spotlight on a problem as repellent as child prostitution. I asked the mayor why she went ahead with such a high-profile campaign, which includes a “Dear John” initiative that has flooded the city with posters and public service announcements declaring that the men who “buy sex from our kids” will no longer be tolerated.
    “We take the position in my administration that the best way to solve a problem is to face the facts,” she said, adding: “We know the problem is here. It’s happening on our watch. It’s unacceptable behavior, and we are not going to stand for it. So look for us to do everything in our power to change it.”
    It won’t be easy. Law enforcement agencies have a notoriously poor record when it comes to prosecuting and putting away the pimps, traffickers and johns in the child sex trade. And there are very few resources, financial and otherwise, to help the kids once they are identified.
    The mayor acknowledged the heavy lift that will be required: “Normally, by the time girls become prostitutes, there are a lot of other experiences that they’ve had, and you can’t turn that around with a pat on the back and a new set of clothes. There’s a great deal of psychological damage. They’ve lost trust in adults. They’ve lost self-confidence. Many of them have lost the will to do anything differently. They’re demoralized.
    “So we’re just getting started. And we’ll be asking for a lot of help.”
    The last time I was in Atlanta, about a month ago, I rode with the police as, among other things, they looked for a 15-year-old girl who had become a prostitute and was being used by her pimp to recruit other young girls. I remember looking at a circular with a picture of the child. She had the saddest expression on her face.
    Over the weekend I checked with the cops to see if they had found her. “We never did,” said Lt. Keith Meadows, who heads the city’s vice unit. “We have reason to believe that she might have been trafficked out of the state.”

  2. It is a horrid state, where our country still tolerates girl prostitution and the commerce that facilitates day tripping to rape these girls. It is hardly surprising because of the insidious sexualization of girls and women by the media and the entertainment industry. Even Ms. Magazine uses American Apparel to produce their t-shirts. Nuala O’Faolain’s (a self declared feminist) biography on Chicago May portrays an uncritical, semi-glamorized view of prostitution. Thank you to Bob Herbert for speaking to this invisible and enabled violence. We must continue this fight aginst the world’s oldest oppression.

  3. Makes me tired of all the self-congratulation of how we got rid of slavery (OK, fine) and this goes on every day under our noses, next door, across the street, across town. Thanks for all you’re doing and helping us stay informed.

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