No ending to violence against women in the 21st century

by Francine Dempsey

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Over 200 school girls abducted together Nigeria. Theirs are the haunting faces of modern female slavery.

I’ve asked, “Can we end sex-trafficking, sex slavery?” I had my first answer from a man from the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services: Not unless the demand by men ends, and that will not happen.

In reading about global sex slavery I learned another answer: economics.

Siddharth Kara in Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery wrote that the US-backed International Monetary Fund financial directives for the former Soviet republics cut social services and let market forces rule in a way that benefited the rich and reduced the majority to devastating poverty. When poverty deepens, selling females – children, wives, sisters – boosts a family’s chance for survival. Buying or abducting women for sex slavery sets one up in a very profitable business. Yes, slavery is about rape, torture and wanton brutality, but the supply of females is unending in the world of the desperately poor.

When I shared with a very wise friend my findings about the unceasing demand and abundant supply that support the rise of global sex slavery, Jil said, loudly enough for all to hear in the small restaurant where we were having lunch: “No. It’s gender bias. It’s sexism. It’s the centuries-old belief, for whatever reasons, that women are inferior.”

I looked more closely into Kara’s study and found his conclusion that, “While IMF policies unleashed deadly global intensifications of human exploitation and suffering, these policies did not necessitate that sex slavery explode in South Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and East Asia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The particular ascension of sex slavery in these regions resides at the intersection of economic bedlam promoted by economic globalization and an historic, deeply rooted bias against females.”

In his extensive travels and thousands of interviews, Kara was shocked by “the extreme level of bias and socioeconomic disenfranchisement that millions of women face across the globe.” The men he met use cultural epitaphs: “Women are buffaloes. Men are humans.” “The blood of a woman is not equal to the blood of a man.” “A woman is known as a sack, made to endure.”

Catholicism has never been exempt from believing that women are by nature inferior. I remember a day when I was about four and I had a fight with my brother. It was during World War II, and he and I were playing on the stoop of our row house on Coyle Street in Brooklyn, he with his toy soldiers, me with my dolls. I must have said that God was a woman – or worse, a girl.

He stood up: “God is a man. Everyone knows that.” And, shortly, my mother assured me that he was right. God was a man.

Now that I am 76 years old and have been a nun for 56 years, I know that God is indeed a man, everywhere in the world. The Pope’s red-garbed “prince” tells us sisters that we must submit to the lordly bishops in charge of us. Italy, a government-corruption paradise, is the Grand Central Station of female trafficking for Western Europe. Even as Pope Francis endorses the extraordinary work of women religious in Italy who shelter, protect and nurture trafficked women and children, he says females can never be ordained.  

Does he not know how his words strengthen rather than weaken the gender bias that causes the systemic tragedy of modern-day brutalization of females, just as much as the Nigerian officials’ inaction after two-hundred-plus school girls are taken captive says, “Females are dispensable?”  

Seven weeks later the girls are still captive – or dead. The world moves on.

Citations are from page 30 of Kara’s book.

[Sr. Francine Dempsey has been a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Albany, N.Y, for 56 years. She is a retired educator, long-time justice advocate, a freelance writer and a member of the Capital Region’s Anti-Trafficking Task Force.]

Editor’s note - At the time of writing, the Boko Haram militant group had not yet taken the suspected additional 60 girls/women (and possibly also at least 30 boys) June 21. The original group of kidnapped schoolgirls have not been located or liberated.