Yesterday, a judge gave Ariel Castro, the Ohio man guilty of abducting, raping and abusing 3 young women for more than ten years, life in prison plus a thousand years. Given that he only has one life to pay for his heinous crimes I was thinking maybe that the justice system might want to spread the other 1000 years around for the other hundreds of thousands of offenders who make a business out of abducting, raping, selling and torturing millions of young girls around the world. As horrible as Castro’s crimes were, they are far from unique. Sex trafficking includes all of the crimes that he committed against these girls and worse. It is big business in the organized crime world. There are literally millions of Ariel Castros out there abducting, abusing and raping young girls all over the world.
What is most troubling about this Ohio case is that the perpetrator came off as a regular guy in a Cleveland neighborhood who went to church on Sundays and mowed his mother’s lawn. It forces us to all stop and wonder what is going on right next door and what will it take for us to be curious and awake enough to bear witness to the trouble all around us. Nowhere is this lack of witness more prevalent than when it comes to the sexual trafficking of girls around the world. In some countries, girls haven’t even hit puberty yet when their families knowingly sell their daughters to organized pimps. Often, the sex rings have paid off the existing legal system. There is literally no one to save these girls.
But even here in the United States, sex trafficking of young girls is one of the most highly organized and lucrative criminal rings with income surpassing the drug trade. Drugs you only sell once, girls you can sell over and over again. By conservative FBI estimates, there are at least 300,000 American girls who are kept much like Castro kept his girls- in locked boxes, in fear of their lives… living humiliated, desperate lives. Worldwide, this number reaches into the tens of millions. How can we collectively look away from this degree of degradation and devastation, which seeps into the collective fears of every woman on the planet.
Given the numbers, it wouldn’t be hard to find some equally deserving scoundrels to serve their time for the destruction of girls that, in large measure, goes unseen. Just this week, a young girl came forward to break up a huge sex ring in New York. Breaking the will and destroying the soul of young vulnerable girls, often who profile from broken, unstable families takes no more than a couple of days. Consistent sexual abuse carries with it the potent silencer of shame mixed with the unsettling and confusing experiences of intimate connection that even forced sex instills. Even tiny flickers of pleasure, which inadvertently slip into abuse, blurs the lines of guilt and too easily turns pimps into fantasies of loving protectors.
This is how Castro could truly believe that he and his captives lived in “a happy home.” This is how sexual predators can believe that the women wanted it, liked it. This is how young victims come to mistrust their own sexual responses so completely that pure sexual pleasure is stolen from them forever. We don’t even have to go looking for frightening organized crime rings to wake up and bear witness to the rampant sexual abuse of children that happens even within our families and close communities.
How do we lift the veil of silence on the sexual abuse that is at the heart of the destruction of our culture? How do we get over our own personal shame and discomfort about our own sexuality enough that we can see what is happening around us? How do we heal the sexual abuses from our past sufficiently to not need to repeat them? How do we learn to accept and cultivate sexual pleasure that heals and causes no harm? First, we have to learn to talk about it. The shame is useless and damaging. Only by adding light to this dark space can we lift it up.