Last week, our Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program celebrated its 20th anniversary with a fabulous research conference (see poster at left). One of the highlights was a screening of the film “Very Young Girls” and a keynote address by Rachel Lloyd, founder and Executive Director of GEMS, an organization in New York to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. Ms. Magazine selected Lloyd as one of “50 women who change the world.”
So, I was rather disappointed when I saw this article on sex-trafficking, “Babes in Scandal Land,” on the Ms. Magazine blog. The article discusses a “sexual double standard” in “reports that a rabidly anti-gay, self-righteous Christian crusader spent a 10-day European vacation with a paid companion he found on rentboy.com.” She compares the relatively mild accounts, compared with the “tsunami” of outrage in cases of female sex workers such as Ashley Alexandra Dupre, “the woman Eliot Spitzer retained from a high-class escort service for sexual trysts in a Washington hotel room.” She asks where is the moral outrage “following revelations that anti-gay leader George Rekers’ consort was not one of “those innumerable girls,” but rather, a rented boy? It’s not that I think the boy in question, Jo-Vanni Roman, a.k.a. Lucien/Geo, needs Kristof—or anyone else—to save him. . .What I am concerned about is a sexist double standard which regards female sex workers by definition as vulnerable victims in need of rescue, while male sex workers are simply guys who have sex for money.”
Although I agree with the suggestion “to stop assuming that men are always sexual agents and women are always sexual victims,” the author fails to make a distinction between adult behavior (the “boy” in question) and the sexual exploitation of girls under the age of consent. Furthermore, notions that underage girls are sexual “agents” have been used to trivialize cases of human trafficking involving girls and young women. For example, this article on sex trafficking and the Lawrence Taylor case observes that
“responses to one Internet report showed 3,000 views and 2,000 comments. An oft-repeated question asked, “Was he supposed to ask for the birth certificate of a prostitute?” Another recommended, “Write him a ticket and let him go.” Only a few observers engaged with the issue of human trafficking. There were numerous calls to legalize prostitution, but few reflections on where the culpability of customers and traffickers fits into the equation.
This is a conversation that goes far deeper than Lawrence Taylor’s personal actions. It’s time for the media to take responsibility for how the language used in telling such a narrative, adds to the lack of awareness about the ramifications of human trafficking. In the struggle to eradicate the exploitation of girls and women, this would be an excellent first step.”
Ms. Magazine, are you listening?