February 13, 2014 / Praxis
This essay explores the space between the physical and the spiritual where the Eden curse still interferes and casts a visceral darkness over women today.
April 4, 2005
“Sometimes when I look deep into your eyes I swear I can see your soul.”
Shame was once defined to me as compacted anger; anger directed not towards others, but seared into one’s sense of self. Although deep in one’s heart is where shame thrives, its trace is always seen on the face. The progressive descending of one’s gaze and hardening of face, with flittered eye contact and muted countenance, gives witness to a fleeting sense of dignity. The call to restore dignity to the shamed faces of the oppressed, objectified, and disenfranchised is embedded tacitly in Christian narrative. Christ’s testimony points to the healing of both the spiritual and the physical, and often manifests itself in the countenance of the restored. As people of faith we ought to be concerned with the faces of those in need; the grim truths reflected in the faces of children who suffer should haunt us most.
The devastation of the recent Tsunami has highlighted the global crisis of child sex tourism. The opportunistic kidnapping and enslavement of orphaned children in the wake of such a devastating natural disaster has shocked and educated many in the West. It is North America and Europe, however, that drive the multi-billion-dollar global child sex tourism industry. US citizens alone comprise 25% of the industry (Ecpat-USA). Succinctly, Americans travel overseas to primarily developing nations and pay to have sex with boys and girls, mainly between the ages of 5 and 14. Globally there is an estimated two-million children who are currently prostituted (Unicef). While children in prostitution find themselves there for various reasons—some children are sold by their poverty-stricken parents, some tricked into debt, some literally captured and enslaved—it is Western culture that drives this nefarious economic force. Without the West, the child sex tourism industry would not flourish.
The impoverished children in developing nations such as India, Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand, and Cambodia daily and perpetually suffer sexual rape. Pedophiles feast upon the bodies of the desperate and hopeless for relaxation, sport, and hobby while on vacation. Some visitors travel explicitly for sex with children, some decide to “experiment” while on vacation—both phenomena drive the demand for such trade. For the child prostitute, waking up each day is about survival and grasping for an amorphous sense of safety. The tourist’s day is spent taking young bodies for sexual gratification. Children are beaten, raped, molested, and tortured—all for the right price.
The assault on children by tourists is not limited to the moment. The victims of rape and sexual violence will experience lifelong emotional and psychological problems. Habitually abused children will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe dissociative disorders, and other psychopathologies related to habitual victimization. These children unwillingly further the AIDS epidemic. Physical disfigurements and complications such as anal and genital mutilation scar children, making scarce their hope for family and relationship for the rest of their lives. At best, child sex tourism shortens the lives of the oppressed. Most egregious is the holistic robbing of hope for the most vulnerable in exploited nations. It is slow murder of the body and the soul.
The defacement of the developing world is the consumption of its children. The insidious effects of raping children will inevitably spread to the society at large. These children may eventually find their way out of the brothels, but even if they survive to adulthood, they will carry a burden that many will never shed. As a psychotherapist, I have not worked with one survivor of sexual abuse who has not believed s/he was responsible in some way for the perpetrator’s actions. The victimized will naturally believe they are who their abusers say they are—sub-human, unclean, and guilty. The psychological effect on a society that prostitutes its children is crippling. When people become a commodity, they are not only an objective function of the global market, but they also become radically temporal: used and soon to be discarded like other natural resources of the third world.
Recent efforts by private and government institutions have made encouraging strides toward curbing the trade and prostitution of children throughout the world. Organizations such as World Vision and International Justice Mission have aided law enforcement in policing problem areas, and have radically discouraged predators from having sex with children overseas. The Protect Act of 2003 makes it easier to prosecute American citizens who engage in child prostitution overseas. Such measures are only as effective as the commitment of the people in power of developing nations and in the West. People who are desperate sell their children; poverty does matter and must be fought aggressively.
Children robbed of their faces, who cast their shamed countenances to the earth, are whom we are to care for as the church. The prostitution of children is our responsibility to fight passionately and imaginatively against. Although we cannot remedy the systemic evils of the global economy in a broken world, we do have room to fight for those in need. Such an economic force is not easily swayed—it is violent, pervasive, and treacherous—but we must both name the systems we participate in and actively subvert them by loving the victims. If we continue to read the faces of the oppressed, I imagine we cannot help but chase the call to help those in need. Keep watching: for the eyes, says our Lord, are the windows into the soul.
Chris Keller is Founding Editor of The Other Journal and a psychotherapist in Seattle, Washington.