By: Megan Jessup
At Ascent 121, we view the sex trade industry as a cultural issue that ensnares everyone in its path. It chews people up, spits them out, and keeps them coming back for more. It’s the basic law of supply and demand. And (in this culture) demand, we do. Objectification and instant gratification are so woven into the fabric of our society that we have begun calling exploitation “women’s liberation” and we blame victims for the actions they took before someone took action against them. When someone makes an allegation of rape, the victim all too often stands trial in the community before the perpetrator ever makes it to the court room.
For the past 13 years, I have worked at all ends of the sexual trauma continuum. I have worked with those who have been victimized and those who have victimized others, old and young alike. And more often than not, the line the separates the two is paper-thin. This is compounded by a society that normalizes and commodifies sex at every turn.
Take, for example, little Johnny. Little Johnny’s father took him to Hooters to celebrate his 8th birthday. It was just “boys being boys”. When he was 12, he received the game “Grand Theft Auto” for Christmas. A game in which he quickly discovered he could hire prostitutes, simulate sexual acts with them (i.e. sexually exploit them), and then be rewarded for killing his victim to get his money back. At 14, his friends introduced him to pornography when they typed in the word “sex” (the 4th most frequently searched word) and up came a plethora of fetish-friendly websites. At 16, he was singing along to a whole host of songs like Blurred Lines (which belittles the significance of consent) and U.O.E.N.O (which glorifies rape). In fact, it was hard for him to find a mainstream song that didn’t encourage illegal behavior. Even more confusing, his girlfriend loved Katy Perry’s “ET,” a song where she clearly states that she wants to be victimized. When Little Johnny turned 18, his uncle took him out and hired an escort. It was a “rite of passage.” And through it all, he was exposed to sexualized and exploitive images of young women and girls on every third commercial, billboard, website, magazine ad and television show. Then at age 22, he was arrested for date rape and the world around him shook their heads in shock and bewilderment. After all, he had been “such a nice boy.”
Let me be clear, we do NOT condone Johnny’s behavior. Johnny is responsible for his actions and should be held accountable for them. But when we look at the bigger picture, is he the only one liable? Because it’s not too hard to see where he went astray in his logic about things like consent, respect, and honoring others. It’s a trap that children fall into over and over and over.
So what is the solution?
- There is no room for pornography. Adopt an attitude of zero-tolerance. Contrary to popular belief, pornography is NOT a victimless crime. Without even discussing the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are used for pornography without their consent either by force, fraud or coercion, the vast majority of porn stars have extensive histories of sexual trauma. They have been taught that their bodies hold tremendous power and they are getting by in life with the only tools they know how to use. Beyond that, the pornographic industry depends on addiction and the devastation that it leaves in its wake: shame, secrecy, compulsivity, insecurity, divorce. The list goes on. And these are the same things that drive up the demand for it. It’s a vicious cycle.
- They say that money talks. What does your dollar say? Right now, there is a group of businessmen in some high-rise office figuring out the best way to get you to spend your money. And our culture has taught them that sex sells. Why? Because we continue to buy their products despite images like this one. It’s time that we tell them a different story. If this is how you are going to advertise your product, then we don’t want your product. This ad is horrifying and heartbreaking to me. It says, “You know you’re not the first. But do you really care?” At what point as a society did we decide that this is ok? I will be an advocate against BMW until all such images are removed and they begin replacing them with more positive messages. I encourage you to take it one step further. When you see offensive images, don’t only avoid the product, but write a letter to the CEO. Even 100 letters can make a difference. They understand that for every letter they receive, there are 20 more consumers who would echo it. So 100 letters = 2000 voices. They also know that if you took the time to write a letter, you’re also talking about it. To your friends. To your family. On your social media walls. Write the letters. They will listen.
- Talk about it! Talk about it with your spouse. With your friends. And especially with your children. Don’t be afraid to have open discussions. Unless your children exist in a tightly-sealed bubble (which we also don’t recommend as it invites a whole other host of problems) then they are hearing about it. What message do you want them to receive? Do you want them to hear Christ-honoring messages? Teach them to honor their bodies and the bodies of others. Teach them that their voice matters. Teach them to be leaders among their peers. And model by example. For more information and guidance on how to talk with others about navigating through our hypersexual culture, check out the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s website, particularly the Resources tab.
- Stop shaming. Admittedly, this is the most difficult. But so rarely do we understand the back story. And whether it is the woman who is selling her body in the seedy side of town, or the man who is purchasing her, there is almost always a back story. We strongly support the shift of focus from the victim to the buyer. We believe that in order to end the problem, we need to end the demand. And there are systems in place to hold those individuals accountable. But one thing I’ve learned during my time in the field is that hurt people, hurt people. And public shaming and stigmatizing others has never done anything to make the situation better. In fact, it almost always makes it worse. Shame is, after all, the thing that so often drives the behavior in the first place. We are called to be grace-givers; to model the love of Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. This is the power of the Cross. This is the message we should be conveying.
- Use the most powerful tool at our disposal: prayer. Pray for the Lord to protect our children against the messages that infiltrate their lives through advertisements and media. Pray for healing for those who wrestle with addictions and for marriages and relationships to be restored. Pray for the hearts of the buyers to soften towards those they are exploiting. Pray for societal restoration and change in public perception. Pray for those in the sex industry and those involved in the making of pornography. Pray for those who have been victims, and those who have victimized.
In what ways are you shaping the world around you? What difference will you choose to make?
Megan Jessup, Ascent 121 Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder: The Lord began speaking into my heart about this issue back in 2009, when I first began working with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. I had already been working in the area of sexual trauma for several years and while I didn’t know it at the time, the foundation had been laid. The next few years took me across the globe to various trainings, networks, and mission fields; including the red-light districts of Mumbai, India. This Journey with Ascent 121 has been the most rewarding and humbling experience, to date. The Lord is faithful and He has reminded us time and again that we are very small pieces of a much larger picture. We are so glad that you have come alongside us in this fight for justice.