i hope you're not involved in it

Foro de Género de CLAI Argentina (the Gender Forum of the Council for Latin American Churches, Argentina) has issued a statement calling for the reform of laws concerning trafficking and prostitution.

Many of the women who enter prostitution in Argentina are kidnapped. Once used, they are often killed. Brothels are illegal in Argentina but officials often turn a blind eye to their activities. Exploitation of women and children depends on the complicity of the state and media and other institutions, including the church.

Without men who pay for sex, there would be no prostitution or trafficking of women and children for sex. These men are fathers, husbands, lovers, friends, colleagues of other men and women, all of whom may have opportunities to challenge their behaviour.

CLAI are calling for the following changes to be made to the recent law on trafficking:
  • Removal of the requirement for victims of human trafficking who are over 18 to prove they have been trafficked, since this wrongly implies some women may be complicit in their own trafficking.
  • Custodial sentences for crimes related to trafficking and pimping.
  • Financial support for victims of trafficking and prostitution.
On the idea of church complicity in the exploitation of women for sex, I wondered, What might a sermon about prostitution read like? Not one that speculates on the identity of the 'penitent sinner' in Luke's gospel, mixing her up with Mary Magdalene who is thus portrayed forever after as a prostitute, not an apostle and leader of the early church; nor one on how Jesus had compassion for - shock - prostitutes and sinners; nor even those prophetic ones that call for support for women forced into prostitution. No, what would a sermon about prostitution look like, a sermon that addresses the thousands of British men who pay for sex - men sitting in front of, or even behind, the pulpit - and speaks a word to them...

A sermon about prostitution
In 'When the sun goes down,' the Arctic Monkeys song about prostitution, there are three men. One is the pimp, one is the man who buys sex, and one is the man who chooses not to. Which one are you?

Oh what scummy man. Not to be trusted, he protects himself while placing the women he controls at risk. He stays warm out-of-sight while they freeze on the street corner. He uses drugs, violence and fear to keep 'his girls' on the street. He has a nasty plan, involving other men who trick young women and girls with offers of good jobs, women and girls who are forced into having sex with anonymous men. His nasty plan makes the most of Britain's inhuman treatment of so-called illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. His nasty plan is helped by 'lads mags' and other forms of pornography. His nasty plan is one step further to being realised every time some woman is called a whore or slag or slut.
I hope you're not involved in it.

The second man. Isn't he Mister Inconspicuous? He could be anybody. He drives a Ford Mondeo. He is the silent partner, the hidden face of exploitation. What he does has only just begun to be seen as a crime - indeed, in many places, what he does is seen as natural and acceptable. A boy's night out. Some harmless fun. Let's make a man of you! He tells himself, 'If I didn't pay her, someone else would - and at least she's out of the cold.' But it is his sense of his right to sex, his belief that this is normal behaviour, his ability to use another human being for his own satisfaction, that enables prostitution to continue. He looks at this woman and sees only himself. He is at the heart of the nasty plan.
I hope you're not involved in it.

And so, the third man. He looks at the girl and sees her. He sees a story, something that has gone wrong. He sees the dirty, cold misery of it all. He's nervous about being there, embarrassed to overhear the woman being ordered to approach him. He comes from the same town as the other men. He's used to the same culture and jokes as they hear. But he chooses to be different: 'Sorry love I'll have to turn you down.'

In the stories we have been given about Jesus, prostitutes are mentioned as examples of faith. They who survive outside of acceptable society, on the dusty roads or at the gates of the city, they are the ones who look at Jesus and see good in him. Jesus teaches us again and again to look and see each other as humans, with stories to tell, and dreams to dream. We are not objects for another's use. Neither are we bound to social expectations of what is acceptable or normal behaviour. By God's grace we are free to live and love, to honour and cherish ourselves and others. Like Jesus did, we are called to look and see the world for what it is.

We can always say no to participating in the harming of another. We can break the silent acceptance of violence against women. We can ensure we are not involved in it, on any level and to any degree. We can always change our minds and begin believing in a different way of living, the way that Jesus taught us.
Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21: 31-2)