The New York Times published a horrifying story about the rape and abuse of Afghan boys by Afghan militia leaders and the U.S. military’s position that our soldiers are not allowed to do anything about it. In “U.S.Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies,” US soldiers tell their stories of knowing about the abuse and being told to look the other way. In addition, when they did interfere they faced official charges for getting involved. (Most recently a Green Beret is fighting his dismissal over doing something about the abuse.) An article like this rightly strikes us as horrific because of our innate moral sense that this kind of behavior is inherently immoral and it does not matter who engages in it. Pedophiliac rapists are wrong no matter what their culture teaches. Then we are doubly aggravated because our moral compass is frustrated by the illogical policy that sex trafficking, rape, and pedophilia are overlooked exactly because we are dealing with another culture. So, we find significant moral dissonance with something like this – a conflict between two strong moral intuitions in our current culture.
The first is that this kind of sexual exploitation and violence is simply wrong. And by "simply wrong" we mean to say that there are not situations in which we can imagine that kind of violence to be right. The second is that we have become deeply hesitant to judge the moral actions of other cultures out of a misguided sense of tolerance. Who are we to say they are wrong? And currently, the wining force is on the side of this conception of tolerance. Even if we still see pedophiliac rape as morally wrong, our cultural institutions are hesitant to act as if it is wrong. Our moral instincts are slowly running afoul of reality.
This kind of moral judgement (many will see it as a lack of moral judgement, but it is in fact a cowardly moral judgement) is not limited to some recently uncovered military protocol. It is systemic in the Western world. For example, the vaunted international human rights organization, Amnesty International, has recently begun to weigh in on the problem of the human sex slave trade and their growing record is decidedly mixed. They recently passed a proposal regarding their position on the sex slave trade that is less than brave. It leans in the direction of decriminalizing the sale and rape of human beings for fun. From an article in the Washington Post:
Amnesty International recently adopted a proposal that recommends decriminalizing the sex trade, a move that it says is for the human rights and equal protections of sex workers. This proposal instead gives amnesty to pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers by recognizing everyone in sex work as “consenting adults.”
The moral reasoning is as baffling as the conclusion involving “consenting adults”:
This industry is not safe, and Amnesty International understands that sex workers in many countries face high levels of violence, but it draws the implausible conclusion that the danger lies in societal stigma, not in the precarious nature of the sex industry and those who exploit it.
Amnesty International is unwilling to take a stand against an aggressive, largely anti-female evil on the grounds that calling it a moral evil might stigmatize the victims. In some insulated circles this sounds like brave moral reasoning. In the clear light of day it is dangerous and sophomoric.
I know how complicated the world of aid to women and girls caught in the sex trafficking can be. I helped found an organization that provides long-term support, education, and ministry to girls rescued from the sex slave trade here in the United States. If you want to donate to an organization actually doing something for these girls, I encourage you to join me in giving to Sarah’s Home.
It is obvious that the girls we work with have deep and abiding issues they need to work through for a long time in order to lead healthy, independent lives. And they are not “easy” to work with. But far and beyond the complications of working with the girls is the snake’s nest of dealing with government bureaucracy. It is impossible to work with any single organization, so you have to convince several of them of the value of what you do, which inevitably does not fit into the pre-printed boxes on their paperwork. And if you get one branch of government on your side, you still deal with the inane and CYA policies of the others. Over and over our work is hindered by government, not primarily the girls.
And one of the most significant issues we face is how to categorize these girls once they are in the system. Because the American culture is just now coming to terms with the reality of sex trafficking in our borders, we simply do not have legislation that helps the victims in ways they need help. Technically they are often processed as prostitutes, even at the age of 13, and when a wise Police Officer realizes what is going on the best solution they often have is to put them in the domestic abuse system. The first category labels them as a criminal; the second doesn’t go far enough to help. So laws and policies need to change to make the work a long term success.
All that to say, I understand that Amnesty International may not have pre-approved legal categories for the victims of sex trafficking at their disposal, but their solution is the dumbest and most harmful possible. You don’t help these kids by de-stigmatizing the organized crime behind rape-for-profit. If you are moral and brave, you take a clear ethical stand and begin to change the system. We did that in our own small way, and if there are courageous people at AI, maybe they can do the same.