I recently read several books by the British author Jean Sasson who spent a few years of her life in the middle East and wrote about the plight of women due to the stereotypical atmosphere deeply ingrained into the customs and rituals over years recently. Buying women from Asian or African countries for substantial sums of money (enough to help a poor household go on for a couple of years) is a piece of cake for the men over there who bathe in the petrol and oil US dollars.
Going forward with my reading on the subject, I realised it’s a global phenomenon which has been perpetuating for more than a century now. The Transatlantic slave trade which went on for centuries before being recognised and condemned by the human rights and other International institutions was propelled on ideas of gross human rights violation and genocidal tendencies, misanthropic and misogynistic ideas, deep class prejudices and racial discrimination along gender discrimination. The resounding presence of prostitution under the cape of slavery isn’t something one easily forgets. The goal of traders back then was purely economic: to make as much out of it as possible. The contemporary pimps, human traffickers perpetuating buying and selling of young girls into prostitution and brothel owners work on similar lines too, merchandise on the market being the human body. The women brought into the business are first made to change their names and identities and pimps mark their women (essentially, brand them under their name) using tools like tattoos on the bodies.
Back in the slavery regime sexual violence and abuse was used as a weapon of terror under which women were not only dehumanised but humiliated beyond measure, that they ended up not even recognising themselves, the fathers, husbands and brothers were made to face the ignominy that made them realise their extreme state of helplessness. Same goes on even today when girls as young as 12 are either kidnapped and sold off to pimps for money or when parents sell of their teenage daughters in poor countries out of poverty. The stories of abuse and exploitation that follows is beyond apprehensions when even today rich men drive through the streets of such brothels looking for slaves and capturing them for life where they scar them beyond any fix.
Whenever there’s a disruption of order in the world, be that specific to a country-wide genocide or a world war, the exploitation witnessed by women far surpasses than that of males. The tales of ‘comfort women’ that haven’t been officially recognised even almost a century later constitutes one of the most egregious war crimes of all times! Based in Japan, about 2 hundred thousand women were procured by a state organised system sponsored solely by the government of Japan was to take care of the ‘needs’ of the soldiers fighting for the country. Not only that, this arrangement was restored by the US military during the post war years upon the annexation of the Japanese territory. The US military perpetrated on similar lines, the sexual abuse in Philippines that the survivors have claimed the state sponsored abuse as an intrinsic and indelible practice of the US colonial rule.
Now consider an example of a genocide of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who were forced to be uprooted from their homes and had to leave behind everything also witnessed gross sexual abuse not only back home but also when they took refuge in the refugee camps on the outskirts of Bangladesh. Many men and shockingly women too kept an eye on little girls as young as 10 and at the very first opportunity, abducted them and sold them off to the brothels in the nearby Kox Bazar. Tales witnessed by young survivors are bad enough to shock one to the core! Another example being that of the Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad who witnessed abuse under the Islamic State Caliphate. Nadia’s accounts of how purchasing of women went about the midnight hours in the markets, the harrowing account of the screaming of women who were pulled by hair and dragged through the floor like animals. Every slave in the regime was a slave to not just her master but every man who witnessed her in sight. How even a woman as headstrong and strong willed as her (from her earlier descriptions) couldn’t even recognise herself a few months into the abuse is gut wrenching.
There’s a disparity among this abuse as well as witnessed by different women coming from different backgrounds on the basis of their colour, ethnicity, class etc. As witnessed from accounts of brothels of Amsterdam, Netherlands shows that different kinds of women are expected to provide different kinds of services. The word around is that the girls and women of African origin who are trafficked from countries like Nigeria are expected to serve in ways different from white women as they’re essentially regarded to have a high threshold for pain which justifies the atrocious activities committed on their bodies as they’re not seen as human but somewhat closer to apes. Another instance from the interview of the sexual trafficking survivor revealed how a police personnel once arrested two women, one being black and the other being white. The police officer eyed both of them to get in the rear of the car upon arresting them but let the black roman go. When the other one asked why did you let her free but not me, he answered “I’ll take you to the prison to pull you out of this cruel chain only to set you free. She’s black, her future is as bleak right now as it’ll ever be. This is the best for her.” As tears streamed down her face imagine how her farewell to her best friend was.
The reality is far from better. The sexual exploitation especially in the developing world is often organised and systematic (and sometimes even legal) is propelled by the individuals who are the puppets of the rich and affluent. The premise of prostitution is built on the concept of inequality where females of the poverty clad households right from a very young age are taking desperate measures, sometimes trying to feed their young ones or help support the marginal incomes of the drunkard males and sometimes simply to make the ends meet, selling their bodies and dreams every night, trading them for meagre sums of money.