“A Euloguy to Craigslist’s ‘Casual Encounters,’” Protecting Sex Trafficking Victims Through Mutual Objectification?
Regulating the internet has always been a challenge. Aside from the technological and technical hurdles of regulating a platform that operates on a global scale and under the jurisdiction of nearly every government on the planet, almost every effort to provide regulatory oversight has resulted in fierce opposition. Regulation of the internet could, after all, easily squash the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, and the free exchange of ideas on a world wide scale. When it comes to empowering law enforcement against sex traffickers, as well as others who use free speech to promote criminal activity and victimize others, the free speech argument is, however, quickly exhausted. Opposition to the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, also known as FOSTA, should have, therefore, melted away, but that is not what happened thanks to the way people glorify the sexual objectification of men and women.
Instead of support, numerous proponents of women’s rights and sex trafficking victims actually condemned FOSTA. Dismissing any perceived role the internet might play in expanding the sex industry, anti-trafficking advocates and experts argued the loss of websites dedicated to the sex trade will silence so-called sex workers and force them back into the streets where they face more dangerous options in their quest to sell their services. To some degree, these critics raise a very important point. Not only does FOSTA fail to legally qualify what the promotion or facilitation of prostitution specifically means, it does very little to address the social and economic issues fueling the sex industry. On the other hand, many critics of FOSTA are also ignoring the plight of sex trafficking victims and those who are forced into the sex industry by using ideas like transparency, equality, consent, and personal choice to rationalize the existence of online sex markets and ignore the harm that comes with the willing objectification of people.
Immediately following the passage of FOSTA, Craigslist decided to shutter its “Causal Encounters” section. Whether the Craigslist decision was an unintended consequence or a victory against a platform that enabled sex traffickers, the thinking of those who sympathize with the plight of Craigslist reveals the bad ideas that help romanticize prostitution and risky sexual encounters as products of sexual freedom and female empowerment. HuffPost Personal Deputy Editor Emily McCombs, for example, wrote an eulogy for the “Causal Encounters” section of Craigslist in which she reflected on her years of allegedly empowering experiences with the platform. She, of course, qualified her nostalgia with a small dose of reality as she casually mentioned the darker side of her experiences, which included sexual addiction, sexual trauma, and dangerous sexual encounters. Her overall message was, however, that FOSTA is restricting freedom of expression and personal choice.
The views of people like McCombs stem from illiberal liberal feminist ideas on sexuality. Due to history of the US as a religious and sexually conservative society, which largely treated woman as an inferior sex, the feminist movements have tended to reject the oppressiveness of traditional social institution, including numerous prohibitions on sexual behavior. Many feminist thinkers concluded that sexual liberalism, as long as there was mutual consent and the equal objectification of men as sex objects, is the same as female empowerment. The treatment of woman and men as sexual objectives, whether there is informed choice or mutual consent, is, however, still just as demeaning, dehumanizing, and disempowering as when men unilaterally objectify and use women to fulfill their sexual urges. In turn, the ability of women to objectify themselves for a profit is not a exercise of economic empowerment. It is simply an example of women justifying and encouraging the objectification of woman.
When men treat women as sexual objects and women treat men as sexual objects, even if they have other dimensions to their relationships, they are training each other to treat the opposite sex and people in general as objects. When people start viewing other people as objects, they stop seeing others as living creatures with needs and wants of their own. They stop seeing others as humans and they stop respecting them as people with equal rights. They start seeing other people as objectives to used, if not owned. They see other people as objects to be discarded when they are no longer useful or interesting. Millions upon millions of people are harmed by human trafficking, the sex industry, and those who treat their sexual partners as sexual objects. When someone is raped, sexually assaulted, or just used for sex, they are being treated as an object. This objectification can thoroughly destroy someone’s sense of personal security, identity, and worth, i.e. it disenfranchises people.
It is true that sexual behavior is an issue of personal choice. It is also true that consent makes causal sexual encounters and prostitution a choice, which means the promotion of these things can be viewed as liberating. Recognizing society constraints the behavior of all people, including when it comes to sex, it is very tempting to use the rejection of social prohibitions on sexual behavior as a means to achieve freedom and personal empowerment. It is, however, essential to recognize that society constraints the personal choices of all people to protect others from the harmful choices of those who use their freedom to harm others. Fully rejecting social constraints on sexual behavior is tantamount to freeing sexual predators to victimize people, because sexual predators do not care about consent as it is society that prevents them from victimizing others. The sexual objectification of people is precisely what leads people to mistreat each other and accept the mistreatment of others. It is the willing embrace of sexual objectification that must be rejected, if sex crimes are to be stopped.
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