Dedicated to Lori, Heather, Miss S, true warriors, and my role models
In looking at how our culture condones the sexual abuse of children,we shall examine it in light of two aspects of our culture: the treatment of individuals as resources, and the privilege of wealth and power. This is by no means an exclusive list, and there are many more ways our culture encourages this behavior. The problem of child sexual abuse is a worldwide problem, and the ways it will interact with various cultures can be vastly different. Being a North American, this post will focus on our culture, as I feel it is hardly fair to make judgements about cultures I have not experienced first hand. It does, however, need to be addressed in all cultures; the solutions will look different, the problem is the same. For the purposes of this post, we shall be limiting the scope of child sexual abuse to such concepts as human trafficking, sexual slavery, sexual abuse by authority figures and the prostitution of children, (though I believe these arguments apply equally well to adult prostitution as well). The other side of child sexual abuse, incestual/domestic sexual abuse and random rape/victimization are different issues that have distinct features and require their own discussion; we shall focus on abuse involving monetary transactions or imbalances of power.
Culture can be broadly defined as the collective beliefs, traditions, histories and norms (accepted behaviors) that are transmitted from generation to generation, and unites a people, either because of geography (nation states) or ethnicity or religion (religion is a tricky one, because it can unite people irregardless of geography or ethnicity, but it is also a part of the larger culture of geographical or ethnic culture). This includes transmission devices like art and literature, mass media, science, social organizations and education systems. Though generally rooted in history and tradition, cultures are always evolving. Most of this evolution is incremental, responding to shifts in the environment and collective beliefs over time, but it can also be rapid and violent. Cultures usually include subcultures, be they ethnic minorities or social dissidents or the stylistic rebels; although some cultures actively stamp out subcultures, in others, such as ours, they are generally tolerated, and usually blend into the mainstream culture after a time. One does not have to agree with a culture or even be aware of it to be affected by it, it is the collective conscious that is omnipresent and pervasive. In fact, the more one diverges from cultural norms, the more one realizes what those norms are, and in trying to rebel, one is affected by the norm none-the less.
Our capitalist/consumer culture is predicated on the notion of people not as individuals, but as resources. The industrial Revolution was a seismic shift in society, and though not the beginning of capitalism, it was the “leap forward” event, allowing for an ever greater acceleration of capitalism and the culture we now know. It was the staging point of mass industry , resulted in dramatic changes to education, and a re-orientation of how people were seen, from subjects of royalty to resources of the capitalist system. Today, we are defined by how productive we are and how much we consume. The company we work for, the clothes we wear, our phones and cars are all identity marker, telling us and other who we are. The government and industry sees us as commodities, our worth measured by how much capital we can make for a company and how much of our income is spent in various categories. Anyone who has applied for a job is familiar with the term “human resources”, which is a perfect summation of our value to that company. As soon as we are no longer the most economically viable resource, we will be discarded. The government measure things like the economy in terms of movement of capital as a system, and individual success or failure is immaterial. As long as the economy is doing well, the state of being of individual citizens can be ignored.
This relates directly to child sexual abuse in it’s various monetary forms. The culture seeps down from the top, and people are seen as resources on a personal level. Pimps and traffickers view children solely as a means to earn massive amounts of profit. The pimps do not see themselves evil, the are merely entrepreneurial, making the most money they can using the opportunities they have in the system. The children are not seen victims, they are resources to be traded and bartered with, their pain and suffering immaterial to the transaction at hand. The dehumanizing that the system does to us is personalized in this relationship. No longer are the children people, they are money makers. This is merely a micro version of the system as a whole, tacitly condoned by the system that at best ignores the problem. Pimps are glorified on television and in music, able to by their way out of legal trouble, and if they are successful enough, trafficker and pimps can gain entry into higher levels of society through their wealth. Capitalism places no moral value on money, it does not matter how you gather wealth, only that you have amassed it. We can see a similar effect in military training, dehumanizing the enemy to make it easier to kill them; if people are not “human beings”, just resources, any number of horrific acts can be morally sloughed off as “just getting mine” or “trying to get by in the system”, not as heinous acts of barbarism solely committed for selfish ends.
While this post is not related directly to adult prostitution, I do feel it necessary to comment on the effect this culture has on women, especially in light of the ever increasing sexualization of children in the media. Women are being told, at a cultural level, to use their sexuality to benefit themselves, they are encouraged to use it as a power over men, to get their way, to gain financial advantage. In my opinion, the notion of sex as a commodity is damaging to women in general, and children specifically. If sex is a commodity, then it can be bought and sold; if it is a weapon or tool, it can be used both ways. If an adult chooses to do so, that is their choice, but it creates a culture that allows it to happen to children as well. It fosters the notion that our bodies are resources , not part of ourselves, and it tells men that women’s bodies are objects that are available for a price. This is detrimental in a culture that is increasing sexualizing our youth. It can be seen in television commercials that dress younger and younger girls in skimpier and skimpier outfits, or the pervasiveness of teen taking half-naked “selfies” and posting them on the internet, or in the over the top behavior of young celebrities whose fans are all adolescents. We should not want children to think of themselves as sex objects, and we most definitely do not want them to be seen that way by adults.
(For the record, I consider myself a feminist, in the sense that I believe in equality for all people, that women are equal to men. I am all for empowerment and liberty of all people, but there is a vast difference between empowerment and objectification. If a woman has to use her looks or sex to succeed, her worth solely determined by her body, then she is still not being considered as a whole; I do not consider this empowerment. Women should be valued for the same reasons men are, their intelligence, drive, passion, creativity, etc, not for how big their boobs are)
The second component of culture to be examined is the privilege of wealth and power. For the purposes of this post, we shall consider the terms as essentially interchangeable. Though the two are separate concepts (one can have wealth and little power, and achieve power with little wealth), in general, in our society, wealth gives one power. This can be seen in the way corporations are favored by government over individual rights, and profits for wall street take priority over the fiscal health of the vast majority of people. On a more micro level, this can be seen in the interactions between bosses and employees, or between people with high income jobs versus people in low income jobs. There is a power imbalance that wealth creates, and fosters the notion that people with money can treat those without however they like. This, combined with the idea that the body is a consumable resource, creates a culture where the rich feel entitled to people as a property, a toy to use as they will. As long as they have the money and influence, they can do as they wish with people.
Relate this down to the “john”, the consumer of prostitution. The sexual abuse of children is not limited to the ultra-rich and powerful, it is committed by groups of people in many income groups. As long as you can afford to pay for the services, it will be provided. It is not a rare occurrence in human trafficking, most who are used in prostitution begin at a young age and are discarded at a relatively young age also. There is a premium value placed on youth, perhaps to simulate innocence and virginity. Johns know that they can have almost any desire catered to, allowing them to indulge in any depravity they can afford, up to and including murder. They are allowed to see their victims as not as human beings with feelings or emotions, but as property they have paid for, dolls or toys. The dehumanizing mentioned before absolves the abusers from having to empathize with the victims, it is merely a transaction. It creates a type of virtual reality where their actions take place not in the reality of the pain and suffering they create, but of pleasure commerce, a fantasy that exists only to serve their needs.
The child sexual abuse that goes on barely bellow the surface does not exist in a vacuum. From the child abuse rings being exposed in England to the john who buys a blowjob from an under-aged girl (or boy) on the street corner, these are all acts that are tacitly condoned by the consumer culture we live in. Capitalism strips people of their intrinsic worth and replaces it with fiscal value, and as long as you have the funds, you can consume people like beverages and toss them away like empties when done. No emotional involvement in involved, only the indulgence of desires, no matter how vile. No where are the principals of capitalism, supply and demand, more evident than in the “black market”. While clearly the traffickers and profiteers are a problem, the real problem is the demand. We, as a culture, need to ask if it is acceptable to treat people like objects. We need to look in the mirror, so to speak, and examine the assumptions that underlie the behaviors. If respect and dignity were valued over profit and consumption, would this behavior be allowed to continue? If empathy was taught instead of satiation of desires, would people be able to turn away from the suffering this “industry” creates, the way they do now? We need to combat the societal forces that encourage the demand, we need to change our culture.
(also for the record, this is in no way excusing the behavior of traffickers, pimps, johns or any other sadist who abuses children. They need to be held accountable for their actions on an individual level. This is merely an attempt to examine cultural factors)