People all over the world are being bought and sold for sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude, forced marriage, or even for their organs and human sacrifice. These are the many ugly areas of human trafficking (opens in new tab) that most of us don't think about when we think of the world's fastest-growing global sex crime.
Sisters Zunera (left) and Shaista, who were trapped in the sex trafficking trade by a neighbor and held hostage in a brothel in Dubai, speak during an interview with AFP in Faisalabad, where they are in hiding with their family. Zunera once dreamed of becoming a computer engineer. Instead, at the age of 16, the bright-eyed Pakistani was tricked into prostitution in the UAE, beginning a four-year nightmare of cruelty, violence, and rape.
"People don't like to talk about it, people don't like knowing it happens," says Amy Archer of Stop The Traffik (opens in new tab). "People don't want to know that it's happening in their neighborhoods." The global movement addresses the modern-day slave trade through hard-hitting videos, films, and campaigns in hopes of inspiring people to become voices against trafficking.
While organizations like Stop The Traffik is focused on awareness, others are leading the fight against gender-based crimes (opens in new tab) by attacking female sexual repression.
There's no denying that repression and human trafficking are different, but the connection the two have with one another is the existence of a sexuality model where women are commodities and men are consumers. Many of us are taught at a young age that sex is a bad, shameful thing so no one speaks up when their experience actually becomes a bad, shameful, often violent thing.
One woman sex activist who believes that the first step to combating sexual crimes is to remove the shame from consensual sex is Jaclyn Friedman (opens in new tab). Today, she
has been described as a feminist rockstar (opens in new tab). Twenty years ago, she was just starting to process a rape she had experienced in college. She wasn't on a date with this person. She wasn't attracted to him. Yet after a few drinks with friends, he followed her back to her room and raped her.
The more she digested what happened, the more she rejected the shame that society tried to make her feel. For Friedman, it wasn't about simply not liking the experience. It was point-blank rape and no one was accepting it. Somewhere along the way, our "boys will be boys"society finds it acceptable to blast women for what they wear or how much they drink, yet deflects the responsibility from men for sexual assault.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about this shame that women are supposed to feel. I kept hearing from women, 'how do I know what I want to say yes to?' and then I realized that it's not an accident that we don't know what we want from sex," she says.
"We live in a culture where sex is by and for men," she continues. "We're not encouraged to know what we want from it. We're just encouraged to be as appealing as possible."
To change the views in patriarchal cultures that rule most of the world, we must first take the shame and dishonor out of sex. We do this by teaching women that they can be in complete control of every sexual experience they ever have in life. To accomplish this great mission, Friedman, author of the books Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (opens in new tab) and What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety (opens in new tab), has made it her life goal to introduce "pleasure based"sex education for young girls so that there aren't any doubts when rape is rape.
"It's this weird idea that if we tell [teens] that sex is pleasurable, they're all going to go have sex … and this isn't true," says the executive director at the non-profit Women, Action & the Media (opens in new tab). "If we teach that sex should feel good and if it doesn't, then at least young girls will be able to say, 'this is not what I'm supposed to feel and nothing is wrong with me.' "
Kit Maloney is another sex activist who believes that only through openly talking about female-pleasure can we end gender-based sexual violence. In college, she was overwhelmed by the sexual assault stories she heard from women and went on to obtain her masters degree in gender and social policy with a focus on anti-rape and sexual violence. At the end of 2014, Maloney's company O'actually (opens in new tab), an adult-content platform focused on pleasure for both genders, is expected to launch.
"I know that people would have been much more comfortable if we had made [the company] a non-profit focused on ending sexual violence," she admits. "But I decided to make my company a for-profit dedicated to sexual pleasure."
"I am very thankful for the many amazing people in the world addressing violence, but I also believe that if we don't balance our conversation of violence with pleasure, then we're not giving the conversation justice," she says. "It's sometimes easier for us to talk about the grim then to talk about ownership of celebrating sexual freedom and what that actually looks like."
The big part of the problem, says Maloney, is the shame associated with female pleasure. If women weren't meant to feel intimate pleasure, then we exist solely for the male pleasure — and that kind of mindset is the root of all sexual evils.
Lux Alptraum (opens in new tab), a writer, sex educator, Ivy-league graduate, and former adult-industry executive agrees with Maloney, saying the more comfortable we, as a society, become with the fact that sex is not the evil culprit, the better we'll become at tackling global sex crimes.
"Once you make consensual sex something that is sexual and not shameful then you can combat non-consensual sex or rape or slavery," she says.
By talking about pleasure, we are reiterating that sex should be a mutually beneficial experience and consensual sex is something to be proud of, not something to feel shameful about. Through talking about pleasure, we are also telling women that they have full control of their bodies. It has long been the norm that men are in charge of sexual and intimate relationships, but we need to change that norm by letting women know they have the autonomy to start and end any sexual experience they may encounter. This might not stop offenders from taking sex forcibly if they choose to, but at least it takes the shame out of talking about it and the victims will be more willing to step forward.
Speaking about pleasurable sex in no way excuses men's behaviors that are harmful to women and other men. If we tolerate the "boys will be boys"mentality or "she asked for it," we are saying it's acceptable to place the blame on women while sidestepping men's responsibility for sex crimes.
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