I once heard a legend about a village near a lake inhabited by a large and vicious crocodile. The people were so terrified of the crocodile that they didn’t dare to even speak of it. Most of the villagers were aware of the danger lurking in the lake, but although there were some vague, hushed warnings, many feared that talking might arouse their children’s curiosity about the crocodile, and so they said nothing – just hoped fervently that their family would never have to face it.
Because the lake was a source of water, food and recreation for the people, they spent considerable time there. There were regular crocodile attacks, resulting in severe injuries and even loss of life. The villagers would shrink away in horror from seeing the effects of the attacks, but still they refused to talk about it for fear that it would only get worse. And so the attacks continued, the survivors too ashamed to speak, afraid of being told it was their own fault, and the unscathed continuing to hope the problem would go away.
When I was searching for the source of this story, someone commented that it sounds like a horror movie full of very ignorant people. Yes, it does – but doesn’t it also sound eerily familiar?
There is a crocodile in our village. It goes by many names: pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, violence against women. We all know, on some level, that it exists, but especially for white North American Christians, it is easy to pretend we aren’t affected by it and to assume these are the result of lifestyle choices for people who don’t share our morals. We might feel sorry for the ones we can’t avoid acknowledging as victims, but because it’s such a horrible reality, we don’t know how to talk about it, let alone begin to think about how to stop it. Discomfort and fear paralyze us, and self-righteousness enables our apathy.
If we know this . . . ?
But justice shouldn’t be optional for Christians. Micah 6:8 commands us to love mercy and do justice. “Many Christians are engaging in acts of mercy – providing food, clothing, etc. But this is a two-pronged command. We can’t love mercy and ignore the part that says we must do justice; we have to do both well,” explains Mary-Lee Bouma, Director of Education and Development at Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity (REED) in Vancouver, B.C. Bouma believes that sexual exploitation of women may be the biggest justice issue of our time. According to REED’s website, human trafficking is the second largest industry in the world and the fastest growing, generating annual profits of $32 billion. The UN and human rights groups estimate that between 12.3 million and 27 million people are trafficked each year, primarily for the purpose of addressing the male demand for paid access to the bodies of women and children.
Millions of women and children are taken, recruited and controlled through force, deception, coercion, shame or any other means of abusive power, and then sold for the purposes of violent pornography and prostitution. Many of us have heard about this industry happening internationally, but the truth is that it’s just as prevalent in Canadian cities. And the demand is going up and up every day, for younger girls and for more violent and extreme images.
“If we know this, why aren’t we doing more about it?” Bouma asks.
In the age of information, is it possible that we don’t know the facts? Or are the facts so overwhelming and horrifying that we’d prefer to pretend they don’t exist, hoping they won’t hurt us?
Mary-Lee Bouma speaking about pornography at Gateway CRC in Abbotsford, B.C.
In her quest to bring shalom to our world – where nothing is missing and nothing is broken – Bouma speaks and preaches using Bible passages like Isaiah 58 and Luke 4:15-21, teaching people that our God is the God who sets the oppressed free, and that it is our job to join him in that.
But where do we begin? There are numerous agencies and organizations like REED that need our financial support and our prayers, but Bouma believes the first step we can take is to identify the root cause, which is the oppression and commodification of women. We were made in the image of God, men and women, Bouma explains. Male domination of women was part of the fall.
“The point is,” she states, “let’s start talking about it!” The villagers’ silence did not stop the crocodile. In fact, it contributed to making the problem worse. Speaking out about injustices, wherever we see them, and educating society, especially our children, will create an awareness of the problem that will then lead to an attitude of “this is not OK.” And only a change of heart and attitude towards the practice of violence against women will begin to remove the drive behind this sickening industry.
Statistics show that the average boy is introduced to pornography anywhere between ages 6-10. It happens through an ad on a computer game, a glimpse of an adult’s phone, tablet or magazine, or through simple curiosity and easy access to Google and YouTube. If no one is educating young boys that the objectification of women’s bodies is wrong, then all they know about the topic comes from websites. And these images all portray a disturbing alternate reality, one in which women and girls are smiling and appearing to immensely enjoy being violently abused by men.
Taking this one step further, if this is the only education boys are receiving about sexuality and relationships, why is it surprising that, when they are older, this is what they desire? According to an article on FighttheNewDrug.org, viewing pornography physically changes the brain. Because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” creating new pathways based on how you feel during certain experiences. “Just like other addictive substances, porn floods the brain with dopamine. But since the brain gets overwhelmed by the constant overload of chemicals that comes with consistent porn use, it responds by taking away some of its dopamine receptors. Therefore, even if the brain is putting off the same levels of dopamine in response to porn, the user can’t feel dopamine’s effect as much. As a result, the porn they were looking at doesn’t seem as arousing or exciting, and many porn users go hunting for more porn or more hardcore porn to get the effect the old porn used to offer.”
One result is that users are finding it more and more difficult to be in real, loving relationships. “It’s sad,” said Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychology professor who studies porn’s effect on men. “Boys who are initiated in sex through these images become indoctrinated in a way that can potentially stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
The article goes on to state: “Real love isn’t any more like what happens in porn than the average Marlboro smoker is like a 6’9” cowboy. But it works out well for pornographers since the more porn a viewer watches, the more their real relationships don’t seem exciting enough, which gives them a reason to turn back to porn. And the more they watch porn, the more likely they are to be indoctrinated with porn’s version of how relationships should go.”
Additionally, young girls are, in turn, being expected by their porn-user boyfriends to live up to unrealistic and violent sexual expectations, and these girls are being led to believe that this is what normal relationships look like because no one is speaking out against it or educating them differently.
An interactive activity at Gateway CRC shows how everyone – pastor, police officer, father, pimp, youth leader, friend – plays a role for or against prostitution.
Turning on the light
While this disturbing pattern is driving the porn industry to alarming new heights, Bouma cautions against the idea of viewing pornography as an addiction, explaining that this approach can make it easy for the user to feel that they are not responsible or can’t help it. With assistance, and with the knowledge that viewing pornography is taking part in the rape of women, porn-users can make the choice to stop. It takes intentional actions and accountability, including what REED deems the “No Porn Pledge,” but change of behaviour can be achieved.
Because exploitation of women’s bodies is everywhere, Bouma asserts that there are endless opportunities to bring it up – with our children, teenagers, spouses, friends and church councils. “Once you begin looking for it, you will see it everywhere – on mainstream TV, in PG movies, magazine covers, billboards. It’s everywhere! Point it out and say ‘that’s not OK!’ and then talk about why,” she says. Help other people to have ‘aha!’ moments about what this industry is doing to women.
As our family watched the bikini-clad Olympic beach volleyball competitors on TV this week, as I explained to my 6-year-old why Super Woman doesn’t get to wear a shirt like Superman, and as I turned the Cosmopolitan magazines backwards in the child-height rack at the grocery store to stop my sons from staring, I pushed against the urge to stay silent about the crocodile in my village, and we talked about why these things are definitely not OK. It wasn’t easy to find the words, but the effect felt like the relief of flicking on the light switch in a darkened room.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression . . . and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isa.58:9-10).
Resources for further information and action
- Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity (REED): embracedignity.org REED’s Facebook page, as well as the FB page of John Free Communities which REED helped neighbourhood residents start, include models of letters to help people ask their city councils and police to enforce the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, to give women the protection of the law in their communities.
- Fight the New Drug: fightthenewdrug.org
- Private Member’s Bill 47 on pornography calls for all prostitution to be called exploitation: parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Arnold-Viersen
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