Sex, Lies, and Videotapes
by Roger C.
I was raised in a small town in rural Northwest Florida, or “LA” as we called it (that’s “Lower Alabama” for my northern friends). My parents came from farming families and my dad worked in a factory. When I graduated from high school, I went to a military academy in New York. Only the seniors were allowed to have cars, so most of us took opportunities to travel to New York City through various clubs that bused us down on weekends. My roommate Pat, a street-wise city boy from Los Angeles, and I went down on one trip. As we walked down one street, we saw a man with a small folding table with a crowd. Curious, I walked up to see what the commotion was about, while Pat kept walking. He had three half walnut shells and a pea, and was shuffling them around then asking the people to bet on which shell held the pea. I followed along and guessed correctly…out loud. The rest was a blur, but the crowd cheered me on to join in and somehow $20 left my wallet as I placed a bet, guessed wrongly, and lost $20. When I told Pat my story, he sprung into action to find the con man who had stolen my money, but he was long gone. I learned that the “crowd” actually worked with him to pull naive folks like me into the game. I felt foolish, of course, and was out $20, but the lesson was not lost on me. I’ve had other occasions to make poor decisions when I relied on what I thought I knew or saw, only to later find out that the world is not as it seems. Everyone is not to be trusted and we live in a culture where illusions and lies, smoke and mirrors, mislead us, and where people make money off those false beliefs.
CESE 2020 Global Summit
Covenant Eyes recently sent me an invite to join an online conference called the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation 2020 Global Summit. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my recovery yet. So often our recovery journeys focus on learning our addictive cycles, managing our triggers and emotions, going to counseling and joining groups…learning to connect to ourselves, our God and to our brothers. Amends is just one of the steps, further down the checklist, usually involving anxiety, but critical if we ever hope to restore what the locusts have eaten. It requires reflection and empathy to see beyond our pain to the pain we have caused others. Learning to see the larger contributions of a culture that fosters sexual exploitation, the reality of those trapped in bondage, and owning our part in that system, is likewise difficult, but necessary. Paul encouraged those who used to steal, to steal no longer, but labor with honest work in order to give to those in need (Eph 4:28). As we mature, we are to step into the very dark world we lived and bring redemption to it (Eph 5:11).
The annual CESE 2020 Global Summit brought together over 100 international experts providing speeches, updates and training to over 21,000 online attendees in over 110 countries. Hosted by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (endsexualexploitation.org), the content covered issues that were new to me, and connected-the-dots between so much of the sex industry, prostitution, trafficking, child abuse and more to my own engagement with pornography. I heard several talks each day for a week and a half, and left changed. I now see more clearly than before the dark wickedness behind the curtain, the actual abuse of women and children, and most importantly, my complicit involvement in supporting it.
Cover Narratives / Lies
Much like the con man I encountered on the streets of New York City, the Bible speaks to the lies that shape our thinking and how we must intentionally fight them. Paul wrote that we are to “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12). The battle for personal purity begins in our thoughts. Satan, and the sex industry know this better than we, and spend incredible amounts of time and resources creating false narratives around sexual acts. We have been shaped by these messages. I remember the teen movies like ‘Ten’ or ‘Porkies’, ‘Pretty Woman’ as an adult, and ‘Taken’ more recently. Those taught me boys are controlled by their hormones, sex is fun, “boys will be boys” and get a pass on responsibility, prostitution is an empowering vocation, and trafficking is about overseas kidnapping and forced prostitution. Culture reinforced that men and women had roles to play in relations to each other. This is nothing new. Two centuries ago, the “cover narrative” was that slaves stolen from Africa and making the long voyage to South and North America had been given “a better life.” They even claimed that the slaves enjoyed “personal chefs on the ships cooking their native cuisine.” In the Holocaust, people in towns near death camps were told that the prisoners were criminals and they were fed radical theories and laws to reinforce the illusion of racial superiority. Women are told that abortion is a mother’s “right”, a “choice” and that a baby fetus is not a life. Lies are nothing new; Satan began his attack on God and humankind with lies. Cover narratives remove our moral conflict and legitimizes the abuses of people. Those messages further reinforce stereotypes and separate my “lesser sins” from those darker sins found in the underworld of depravity.
Trafficking is the Exploitation of Vulnerabilities
In 2008, Liam Neeson thrilled movie goers with his application of “his very particular set of skills” on the world of sex traffickers who kidnapped and sold his daughter while she and a friend traveled to Paris. We watched with a just satisfaction, as he dealt vengeance on criminals and rescued his daughter from a lifetime of abuse. As dads, many of us left either urgently preparing our daughters against threats, hitting the shooting range, or perhaps signing up for martial arts training.
Another story, published in 1862, and considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century tells the tale of an ex-convict in the 1800s France, named Jean Valjean, sentenced to nineteen years of hard labor for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s seven starving children. His story of redemption after his release leads to his pursuit of an honest life, and he becomes the owner of two factories and one of the richest men in his village. His story is mixed with that of an employee in his factory named Fantine. Abandoned as a small teen by her lover, and left pregnant with a daughter to raise named Cosette, Fantine leaves her daughter in the care of an abusive innkeeper in another village, while she finds work in Jean Valjean’s factory. When a supervisor discovers that Fantine is an unwed mother, she quickly convinces Jean Valjean to dismiss her, leaving her with no other options for income to meet the extortionate demands of the abusive innkeeper who keeps Cosette. The 2012 movie, Les Miserables, powerfully shows the painfully honest and rapid decline of Fantine. First she is fired, then she sells her teeth, then her hair, and finally her body as she enters a life of prostitution. She ends up in a hospital, dying and never having seen her daughter Cosette’s beautiful life whom Jean Valjean redeemed by raising her to make amends for his own sins.
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act which involves force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person involved has not attained 18 years of age. It requires a buyer, a seller and a slave. This includes prostitution, stripping, massage parlors, pornography and more. Note that this is not just the “Taken” model of kidnapping. Fantine was left with the lesser of two choices: starve on the streets and allow her child to starve, or sell herself to survive. She was not the “sexually empowered woman” choosing a life of prostitution to get rich. She was an incredibly broken, vulnerable woman trying to care for a child in dire circumstances. Her motive was love, not profit. This is not the picture of a sex goddess, focused on the pleasure of men who visit her corner. This is not the story of women who meet the every desire of men who come her way. This is the picture of a woman, like many today, who are incredibly vulnerable and simply trying to survive.
Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables wrote, “The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilizations, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from the European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists: but it weighs now only upon women, and it is called prostitution.” Hugo realized that prostitution was slavery. It may have different means of access and compliance, but it remains slavery none the less. These slaves are those who have the fewest choices between the worst of options, and multiple challenges.
Vulnerable – the word means those who are wounded, weak and helpless. The overwhelmingly majority of women who enter the sex industry have multiple vulnerabilities.
In the next couple of articles, I will share more truths that hit me hard. Lessons about the real reasons women and children are pulled into the world of sexual exploitation, the industry that profits from their continued abuse, and how our involvement creates the demand that causes so much pain. Stay with me, for a difficult journey, not for the faint of heart, but for those courageous few who are willing to look in the mirror, and then to take action. You may find that the same ropes that tie us to addictions are more closely related to those that keep these poor souls in bondage as well.
I urge you to begin by simply reflecting.