Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sex, Young Girls, and Slavery?

There is nothing quite like an evening curled up in a nice warm bed, cup of tea in hand, maybe some “Dove” dark chocolate, and CNN on the television. This was an experience I was lucky enough to engage in previously today and all of those things were wonderful except the one part that didn’t fit in to my ideal evening was CNN. It seems in this hustle-and-bustle world, crime and violence are nonstop. When I was watching CNN, I had a quick glimpse about the sex trafficking of little girls in the United States. This clip of a documentary caught my attention and immediately made me think “human rights,” and it was not long before I was on, investigating the story of a young girl, only 13 years old, and how she had accidently stumbled into a life not too similar to the one she had when she was 12.

The article from is titled “Underage sex trade still flourishing online,” which is part of a documentary that is supposed to be airing on CNN this Sunday at 8pm E.T. called “Selling the Girl Next Door.” The story and the investigation from CNN’s reporters was a year long investigation and targets the girls living here, in the United States, who are used in sex trade. After having read the article and having watched the small clips offered on I kept tying this modern form of slavery to the readings that were assigned for Tuesdays class (1/25). In order to best understand the connection I went to the definition of sex trafficking found here: Sexual slavery or Forced Sexual Slavery is the organized coercion of unwilling people into different sexual practices.”

The definition of sex trafficking helped me bring the reading assignment directly into place, using the views of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was John Locke who described his views on slavery as follows:

“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of Nature for his rule.”

John Locke through this quote, showed how he felt men should not be under the will or authority of other men and this in fact is something that sex trafficking allows. Sex trafficking allows for individuals, and in this article, young girls, to be under an authority that then trades them or sells them to customers for sex. An abomination against John Locke’s own words, sex trafficking is a new slavery that seems to have sparked a new understanding of “under the will or legislative authority of man.” Locke directly addresses slavery, as for Rousseau, the readings I found tying him to the underage sex trade article is as follows:

“ Even if each person could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children; they are born free men, their liberty belongs to them, and no one has a right to dispose of it except themselves.”

This quote from Rousseau shows his feelings towards children and their role in slavery. I believe that this quote could even be taken to the next step and applied to the CNN article and documentary. As defined sex trafficking is in fact “sex slavery” and if one was to combine the two quotes on slavery and children, one would find that the act of sex trafficking is indeed an abomination in the eyes of these early philosophers.

Human rights are rights, which are held by all human beings and although the girls in the article were children, they are still human beings and by the standards of human rights, deserving of rights that are universal. Sex trafficking is a violation against those human rights, and although the girls often “accidently” stumble into the deep dark hole of sex trafficking, it seems that once they are in, they are unable to have or control their own inalienable rights.

Sex trafficking not only seems to be present in the United States, but it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that is challenging human rights every day. These rights seem to be inalienable but if they are being challenged so often, it is hard to understand how they can be unchangeable since the rights and voices of these people, in this case these young girls, are being silenced. This issue is one that has sparked an interest in my views on human rights and although I sat tonight watching CNN and enjoying a cup of tea I can’t help but wonder about these exploitations and the very violations of sex trafficking.

I also invite all of you to watch a film trailer for a movie that is “A Fairytale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children.”

The Candy Shop Trailer from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

"Underage Sex Trade Still Flourishing Online" from


  1. I agree that sex trafficking is indeed an abomination. However, the philosophers we are reading for this week may not be as straightforwardly useful as you suggest. Both Locke and Rousseau talk about the liberty of 'man' or free 'men' instead of persons or human beings. When these Enlightenment thinkers use the term 'man' we (as post-Enlightenment thinkers) often choose to interpret it as ‘mankind’. While I agree with you that we should extend these rights to women and children, I wonder to what extent Locke, Rousseau, and the rest of the Enlightenment thinkers actually support universal human rights.

  2. First off- Yes I too agree that sex trafficking is a horrible practice and is indeed a human rights violation. Also I think that your pointing out that 'although the girls... were children" actually serves to further your argument. Children, being less able to defend themselves, are even more in need of human rights I would argue. This I think is an understanding that fits very well into Dr. J's understanding of "weak humanism," as these less capable people are prone to more weaknesses and thus are more in need for protection from violations of their rights.

    Second off- In regards to Ben's objection/problem with the enlightenment thinker's use of man instead of human or person, I would have to argue that, although it is unable to be verified, these thinkers' understanding of what constitutes a person is completely derived from the time period they lived in, and thus I would argue that we must give them the benefit of the doubt that they would indeed, if brought into our time period, agree with expanding their own definition of human to include women and children. That may be wishful thinking, but I still stand firmly behind it, arguing that it is indeed appropriate to amend their theories to include our current definition of humans without needing to always explain that originally women and children were not included.

  3. Liz, I liked what you had to say in your post. I did, however, notice that you stated that sex slavery is a "new" type of slavery, and while an abomination, it is definitely not new. Sex slavery has been around for a long, long time. Sorry, I just wanted to get that off of my chest. That being said, I actually had no idea that the sex trade was a problem in the United States. I knew it was a phenomenon in much of the world, but right in our own backyard- I mean, that's terrifying in every possible sense.

    Sex trafficking is absolutely, as everyone before me has said, a violation of human rights. When Colin said that children are often more vulnerable than the rest of the population, it really did bring to mind Dr. J's view on how humanism should be viewed- in terms of weakness rather than of strengths, because while it may sound tongue-in-cheek, it really is weakness that bonds the species less the exclusion of others.

    While the practice of sex trafficking is horrific, the fact that CNN is reporting on the matter, that documentaries are being made about the subject, and that it is beginning to gain recognition as a real issue in the world does give me hope. And by the way, the Candy Shop film looks absolutely terrifying.

  4. Stephen, thanks for pointing out that sex slavery has been around for a long time. However, in his book "A crime so Monstrous", abolitionist Ben Skinner claims that there are more slaves in the world now than ever before. Think about it-- a greater number of human beings are enslaved (mostly in forced prostitution and forced labor) than at any other point in the world's history.

    Feminist Nussbaum argues that sex slavery entails the identification of a woman with solely her sexuality, which becomes degrading and oppressive when it is extended into every area of her life, stripping away the rest of her identity and forcing her to be valued for only her sexual parts and functions. It prohibits a woman’s self-expression and self-determination, and degrades her humanity. This explains why the concept of human rights is absent in the sex trafficking industry-- the victim is not seen as fully human.

    There is no question that sex slavery and trafficking are a repulsive and tragic violation of human rights. But why is it still so prevalent? Why do people choose to participate in this crime as traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, etc? I would argue that the root is not moral, but economic. People don't engage in this activity because they are purely evil, but rather because it is profitable-- in many countries, the costs are low and the benefits are high. This can be explained by Thomas Hobbes' view of human nature. Under Hobbes, people are motivated by self-security, self-preservation and the accumulation of material goods and money-- hard power. Through this view of human nature, we can understand a bit more the reality of sex trafficking: Traffickers, pimps and brothel owners choose to participate in the sex slavery industry not only because they are disgustingly immoral, but because they are rational, self-serving individuals. In combatting sex trafficking, then, we must not only attack the immorality and tragedy of this crime, but mainly its profitability.

  5. Sarah, you mention in your response to Stephen both that Skinner claims that there are more slaves today than ever before and that the root of this practice is economic rather than moral. These are both very interesting points, but I would like to point out that they both seem a little misleading. I do not know the details of Skinner's argument, but, assuming that his argument says that there are more slaves today than ever before rather than that there is a higher percentage of the population enslaved today than ever before, the situation may not be deteriorating at the rate that it appears. While there may be more slaves today than ever before, there are also more poeple alive today than in the past which means that the overall percentage of the population that resides in slavery may very well be the same as or lower than in the past. I would also wonder about the sources for this information considering the fact that records in such a business would not exactly be made readily available to the public and are not likely very extensive for any given time period. There is also the issue of whether or not the definition of slavery applied to the sources of information from the past are the same ones that would be applied to the data if it were collected today or using Skinner's criterion.

    In terms of whether or not sex slavery is rooted in faulty morality or economics, I think you are correct to point out that money is a large motivation for committing these acts. However, the individuals participating in this business must still possess a corrupted moral system in order to place money so far above human life and liberty. We must also remember that the reason there is so much money to be made in the exploitation of humans as slaves is because there is a market for such activities which is likely rooted in morally questionable territory as these individuals are spending money for the service rather than saving or earning money (assuming that we are focusing on sex slavery).


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