A few months ago I was at a program in Manila. I was there to teach about the vulnerabilities of sexually exploited children to a group of senior Asian leaders who hadn’t been exposed to the issue of trafficking. I thought it would helpful for them to see the issue firsthand. They agreed to join me in visiting an area of town well known for being a red-light district so we could get a handle on what was going on there.
We visited a bar which we realized later specifically catered for one foreign Asian nationality. As we sat down and bought a drink, a group of about 14 young women in bikinis were brought over to our table. They waited for us to choose one or two of them to come and join them for a drink. I was embarrassed to be in a situation which looked so blatantly like a meat market. I looked around. For everyone else in the bar it appeared to be perfectly normal.
Choosing a girl to have a conversation with us presented quite a dilemma in my mind — being selected appeared to be an embarrassing moment for the girl. Our choice implied that she was more desirable, and others were less. It was a situation in which it was difficult to discern a pathway for dignity.
Similarly, I was talking recently with a friend who is working with boys. His organization is providing English lessons to young men who work as masseurs in a massage place (which is a front for a brothel). Doing this opens a door for my friend’s organization to speak into the lives of these young men from a place of trust. They want to show the young men that they are more than objects to be bought and sold for sex. My friend has really enjoyed caring for these boys, getting to know the different personalities of the guys.
Over time they are hoping to offer alternative work to these young men and explore ways they can support and advocate for them. However, just as they were getting close to the end of the lesson, a ‘customer’ came and the guys quickly had to ‘get ready’. They stripped down to their underpants and stood behind a glass window in the glare of bright lights while the customer looked over them. My friend overheard the customer complain: “They are all the same. Is that all you’ve got?” My friend was indignant but he could not complain or would have lost the privilege of being able to teach the young men in that location. So he had to keep quiet.
I am appalled by how people judge a person simply from their outside appearance but then I realized that to a lesser extent this is exactly what we do when we look at sexualized images and pornography. This is nothing about dignity of the person and all about gratification of self. It is sad that with the increasing prevalence of pornography how it has normalized this type of thinking — to the point that it is not abnormal for people as well pictures to be purchased like a can of beer.
I am proud to work for Love146 who see each child as a unique person who has inherent dignity and the ability to make decisions for themselves and contribute to their own healing process. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk to men to challenge these ‘norms’ and I am committed to helping men to look at children differently with respect and dignity.