Monday, July 9, 2012

Modern-day Sex Slavery & High Profile Predators

When a link is created between social status and ideas of familiarity, persons who attain to levels of social status based on positions of authority held in a society are considered as safer and less dangerous than persons of lower social status.  The elite and persons of authority in any society or community are as capable of violence against women and girls as are any other members of a society.  In the story of the brutal rape of the Levite's concubine in chapter 17 of the biblical book of Judges, the dissonance between the concubine and the Levite’s social status are clear.  Although both the Levite and his concubine are anonymous, their social class is foregrounded.  God consecrated the Levites to serve as priests (Num 1:48-54), but concubines are sex slaves used in the service of men and women (Gen 16; 25:6; 35:22; Ex 21:7-11). The foregrounding of the Levite’s social position within Israel in the story is similarly achieved in the preceding story of the unnamed Levite (Judges 17-18) and the unnamed Levite in the “Good Samaritan” story at Luke 10:32.  Perhaps, like the Levite in the story of the “Good Samaritan,” the Levite in our story is unnamed because he might represent anyone within established religious circles and leadership.  The fact that this unnamed man is identified as a Levite might prejudice some readers in favor of the Levite so that they are willing to overlook or mitigate any questionable behavior attributed to him.  Or the Levite’s status may motivate some readers to view the concubine as the guilty party in the marriage because she is of lower class status. The narrative and textual ambiguity as to precisely why she left her husband might contribute to such a reading.

Familiarity based on social position fosters the notion that persons holding authoritative and respected positions in a community (neighborhood, church or parish) can be trusted more so than persons of lower social position or class.  According to David Batstone, “we do not expect to find [modern-day slavery] in ‘respectable’ settings.  To learn that slave holders press children into forced labor in the cacao plantations of the Ivory Coast may not surprise us.  But we regard it as unthinkable that an otherwise upstanding citizen might be a slaveholder.”[i] (We believe we are far removed from the time when a country such as the U.S. or South Africa deemed it legally and morally acceptable for “respectable” citizens to own slaves.)  A prime example is Kim Meston who, wishes that she had not been so invisible to her New England community.  In a rural town near Worcester, Massachusetts, the minister of the local church used her as his domestic sex slave for five years without raising the slightest suspicion in the community.  At the age of sixteen, Kim began a double life in America.  Everything would have appeared normal to the casual observer—she attended the local high school, ran on the track team, and attended church on Sundays.  The minister even had a wife and a stepdaughter living in his home.  But behind closed doors, she became the household servant, doing nearly all the cooking, housecleaning, ironing, and even tending the church grounds.  Moreover, the minister sexually abused Kim frequently over a five-year period.[ii]

We have all heard of or know of high profile predators. We must stop making excuses for and relaxing the boundaries that would protect our children
from people (of high and/or low social standing) who might physically or verbally abuse them. We should not make assumptions about their safety based on social status. We have to be proactive in setting up boundaries, asking for background checks, and taking primary responsibility for their safety and well-being. And we must be vigilant keeping our eyes open for all God's children.

[i] Batstone, Not for Sale,7.

[ii] Batstone, Not for Sale, 7-8.  Kim was brought to the U.S. by a church minister visiting southern India from the U.S..  Her parents were Tibetan exiles living in a refugee camp when the minister offered to bring Kim to America  and provide a better life and education for her, promising to treat her like his own daughter.

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