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Empowering Women or Enslaving Them?

Michael Craven | Center for Christ & Culture | Monday, September 5, 2005

Empowering Women or Enslaving Them?

Recently, pornography distributor, Philip D. Harvey, filed suit against the Bush administration over its anti-prostitution policies saying that the restriction on USAID funding is an "unconstitutional infringement of speech." (Only a pornographer could come up with that one.) Harvey, the founder and chief executive of one of the world's largest mail-order pornography and sex merchandise businesses is also the founder and president of DKT International which promotes condoms in lieu of abstinence and [eugenic] abortion in the developing world and is a major proponent of population control.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Bush administration says that U.S. and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving USAID funding must adopt a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking."

The fact is the growth of prostitution worldwide has produced a corresponding problem of modern slavery and human trafficking involving women and children so much so that the UN was compelled to launch The Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings in March of 1999.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

"The smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of human beings for prostitution and slave labour have become two of the fastest growing worldwide problems in recent years. ...Women and girls forced to work as prostitutes... Trafficked children are dependent on their traffickers for food, shelter and other basic necessities."

The US State Department estimates that "Annually, about 600,000 to 800,000 people - mostly women and children - are trafficked across national borders which does not count millions trafficked within their own countries." The United Nations estimates as many as 4 million victims each year!

Harvey along with others who deny any restraint of sexual activity argues that prostitution is a legitimate enterprise that empowers women by giving them economic means. This, they argue, is especially true in under developed countries where women have limited economic opportunities. In other words, prostitution is a viable vocation. However, Harvey, like all pornographers, has a distorted view of female empowerment that uses the language of "freedom," "empowerment," and "women's rights" to actually enslave women in the category of sub-human objects of sexual gratification.

Unfortunately, Harvey is not alone in his views. Recently the fashion magazine Marie Claire published an article entitled "Prostitution Gives Me Power," which praised the lives of three "sex workers" in Holland for "using their bodies to foster trust, compassion, and happiness in the world." One woman in the article said that working for a brothel business allowed for a connection because "you're there for a couple of hours" and "talk much more." However, as Chuck Colson pointed out in his recent Breakpoint commentary "any sort of connection she may think she's making is a false one. The transaction is commercial; she is a commodity to be purchased. And no matter how she packages that, it's dehumanizing."

Ambassador John Miller, head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, responding to the article in Marie Claire wrote, "Where prostitution is legal or illegal but tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims. ...recent academic research in nine countries found that 57 percent of women in prostitution were raped, 73 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent [qualified] for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. ...Eighty-nine percent of those women said they wanted to 'escape' their situation."

Ambassador Miller concluded by saying, "The U.S. Government has come to oppose legalized prostitution not only because it is inherently harmful and dehumanizing, but also because it creates a thriving marketplace for victims of human trafficking. This connection cannot be disregarded if we are to be serious about ending modern-day slavery."

This notion of "empowering" women only to then subject themselves to objectification and abuse is an example of illogical feminist extremism. If we define feminism as promoting the equality of women with men and advocate treating women as human persons (as men are so treated) then I, along with every Christian, am (or should be) a feminist. However, radical feminism tends to go far beyond this by demonizing all men. Radical feminists see men and women as ontologically and morally two different kinds of beings. Men are evil oppressors and women are innocent victims. Feminist Susan Brownmiller writes "all men are essentially rapists." Marilyn French writes "all men hate all women." Others such as Andrea Dworkin have written statements that I frankly cannot include here.

As a result of this animosity toward men, some radical feminists attempt to justify prostitution and in general the sexualizing of women by advancing this ridiculous notion that if women simply think they are in control of male sexuality then they are and therefore they become "empowered." However, this "control" is a grand illusion as evidenced by the overwhelming abuse and victimization experienced by these helpless women.

Unfortunately, this feminist illusion has become unwittingly accepted by many young women in the mainstream today and thoroughly reinforced through popular TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and so on.

Pornographers, profligates, and more and more feminists see sex as merely a means of manipulation for the purpose of personal gain. We cannot continue to allow the sexualized culture to inculcate young women in the belief that their relationships with men begin and end with sex and that their best strategy is to "leverage" their sexuality as a form of female empowerment. Otherwise, we will likely produce a generation of women who, like their fictional counterparts on Sex and the City, will come to live pathetic lives, discontent and empty in search of but never experiencing a truly meaningful and loving relationship. Once again proving that everywhere we compromise or corrupt God's design for sexuality and the natural family there are negative and destructive consequences.

© 2005 National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. All rights reserved.

S. Michael Craven is the vice president for religion & culture at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and leads the work and ministry of Cultural Apologetics. The Cultural Apologetics ministry works to equip the Church to assert and defend biblical morality and ethics in a manner that is rational, relevant and persuasive in order to recapture the relevance of Christianity to all of life by demonstrating its complete correspondence to reality. For more information on Cultural Apologetics, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit:

Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.

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Empowering Women or Enslaving Them?