Several news and media sources have posted articles about the prevalence of sex trafficking during big sporting events, such as the Super bowl (see here and here for a couple of interesting articles). As a bioethics blog we would be remiss to not address this issue. Often in bioethics we address medical technology, research ethics, or healthcare. Underlying the perspectives on these topics is a commitment to human dignity.
Some believe the statistics for sex trafficking are exaggerated. Others believe that the statistics are inaccurate and cite that there was NOT a marked increase in commercial sex trade surrounding the Greek Olympics or the World Cup. These groups grant that South Africa was already a hub for sex trade and trafficking, but that the sporting events did not lead to an increase.
Part of the problem in reporting accurate statistics might be in how exactly statistics are obtained. For example, there is child trafficking, which UNECEF defines as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of children for the purpose of exploitation.” (http://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58005.html). This is certainly a violation of human dignity and is illegal. This industry preys on the weak and vulnerable, where children are coerced and manipulated. This is different from the adult commercial sex industry. This is also illegal (except in parts of Nevada), and is a violation of human dignity. However, these numbers may be difficult to obtain because not all prostitutes want to be caught. Some are making money (working for themselves); others may have been forced or coerced (working for someone else); and still others may have felt like there was no choice. Finally, should people who “hook up” with the intent of getting some kind of payment (e.g. seats at the game) be considered part of the commercial sex industry or an arrangement between consenting adults?
Nancy Pearcey, in her recent book Saving Leonardo, traces the history of ideas that has lead to our cultural atmosphere today. One of those is an ambiguous view on sex where the person and the body are distinctly different, a type of dualism. It is as though the body was just an object (or machine) while the person’s emotions, goals, desires, personality, and true identity are separate from the functions of the body. This has lead to a fragmented view of sex, making it difficult to articulate what we know is wrong. For example, most people would agree that child trafficking is certainly wrong, however, our culture also promotes an “anything goes” attitude towards sex making boundaries difficult to justify even when we have an instinctive sense that some things are just wrong. All of the above examples, child trafficking, prostitution, and sexual bartering, degrade the dignity of all those involved. However, most people would agree the first one is wrong; some people argue that there is some validity in legalizing and regulating prostitution; most people think bartering for sex is a personal choice.
In a culture where people view themselves and treat others like animals who are just servants of their basic needs and desires, Christ offers a remarkably different example. Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well who had been with many men, a loose woman for the time period. Jesus treated her with dignity and told her that he was the Messiah (John 4:7-26). When the sinful woman anointed him with oil and cleaned his feet with her hair, he forgave her sins (Luke 7:36-50). In these cases Jesus treated these women with dignity even if they and their culture do not deem them worthy of dignity. He did not objectify them or value them for the functional ability, but forgave them.
Sports are not evil or immoral in-and-of-themselves. Sporting events are not the problem. The problem is a deeper disregard for the inherent dignity of our fellow man, and, in many sad cases, one’s disregard for one’s own dignity and worth as being made in the image of God.