When we consider the dreadful phenomenon popularly known as human trafficking, or often referred to as ‘modern-day slavery’, we have to ask ourselves as a society some tough questions relating to it. Estimates are now already in the vicinity of up to 30 million people who are currently held captive by traffickers world wide – that is a jump from a figure of about 27 million just a few years ago. The reality of the situation is that all those millions of helpless victims (mainly victims of the sex industry) are not just held in underground prisons for the pleasure of their kidnappers; they are being traded back and forth like any other everyday commodity. Depending on where you are in the ‘production line’, you are either sold on to a new owner or you are reused as the final product, recycled over and over until you are considered to be of no further use. This makes obvious the fact that there are not only sellers but buyers also in this industry.
Why do we find ourselves, as a society, in this situation where there is a growing demand for sex slaves? The trafficking syndicates are the ones busy with criminal activities; they are the ones we want to see behind bars. We cannot, however, deny the reality that among us ‘good citizens’ a culture is maintained through which a hunger for women to be bought and used as sex slaves is bred. This demand for women is not specific to any one social or economic segment of society and it is not only supplied by means of prostitution but also other channels such as the porn industry and strip clubs.
We have to face the fact that although most of us condemn prostitution, blatant pornographic material and other forms of nude entertainment, the sex culture and pornification of women (in particular) are very much part of our daily lives nowadays. Although the above mentioned channels are what brings men in contact with the women, many other forms of media creates the need among men to engage in these activities. Further, it is not only something encouraged by men but sadly women also buy into their own objectification.
To illustrate my point, consider this statement: “I’m happy I did it and I consider this to be such a huge honour for my modelling career.” That is the words of Amy Tara Bridger who was recently chosen to be the official ‘playmate’ in the April issue of Playboy South Africa as the magazine makes a comeback to the country after a 16-year absence. Tracy McCregor, who will appear on the cover of the comeback issue, says she is “really excited to be a part of something so special, especially with it being the first edition of the local issue.” Another South African model enjoying success on the international scene, Candice Boucher, appeared on Playboy’s US cover in April 2010 under encouragement of friends such as former Miss SA, Jo-Ann Strauss, who said “She looks amazing. Every lady has the right to decide whether she wants to do something like Playboy. This particular shoot is beautifully and artistically done. Well done to her.”
These are women to whom many young South African girls, especially aspiring models, look up as role models when it comes to making career decisions. Some make it to these magazines catering for the unmet needs of men while others might only make it to a billboard selling some product along with themselves appearing semi-naked.
To many of us this behaviour and culture is ‘nothing to worry about’. In actual fact, on many occasions someone who writes what I just did would be critisised for acting judgmental towards women and not respecting their freedom to do with their bodies as they wish. Reality, however, shows us that it is all part of the process to change our perception of women from a human being to a product. Once she has become a product to us we can consume her without our conscience interfering, and we can do so more and more often and we call the shots on who, when and how. And what is more, she’s keen on it; I mean she considers it a career highlight to bare herself to whoever wants to have a peek. And I bet she’s in for more than a peek… (that is the message communicated)
A very small number of women ever get rescued once they’ve been trafficked but as the public we can do a lot to help prevent this from happening in the first place and make a stand against the various factors which contribute to our sex culture.
Melinda Tankard Reist is an ex-journalist from Australia who has committed herself to the cause of advocating for women and girls. She is also leading and promoting various campaigns to create awareness about and bring an end to the objectification of women in Australia in particular. Her research confirms what I wrote above and I would encourage you to watch this 2-part interview with her on the matter and also check out her website for resources and ideas on how you can make a change here in South Africa.