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Globalizing Women’s Rights and Dignity

Looking at the astronomical growth and profits of the sex industry, it is easy to overlook the human cost. One can get lost in cyberspace or confuse glamorous numbers and digital images with real women and children. The profits of the sex industry are based on sexual exploitation, which starts with harm to real people.278 Sexual exploitation violates human dignity and bodily integrity and is a violation of human rights. The basic premise of international human rights is that people have a right to lives with dignity. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

“All men are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1)

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude” (Article 4)

“No one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” (Article 5).

All of these principles of basic human rights are violated by sexual exploitation.

Forms of sexual exploitation depend on a demand market, in which pimps and predators choose to buy and sell women’s and children’s bodies and sexuality for sexual gratification, profit or advancement. It is a practice that reduces women of the world to a second class status. Sexual exploitation inflicts grave harm on women’s minds and bodies, and aggravates the harm of existing inequalities. If a woman’s life is constrained by lack of education and employment opportunities by racism, by illegal immigration or migration, by economic or political crisis, by childhood sexual, physical or emotional violence, or by poverty, then sexual exploitation aggravates and intensifies the inequalities, disadvantages and harm. Prostitution and trafficking are not victimless crimes, or just another form of work, as pimps and apologists for the sex industry would have us believe. Even when women voluntarily enter into these situations, in hope of making money or finding a better life, the dynamics of the brutal, often illegal sex industry, quickly leave the women with few other options and powerless to leave.

We are living in a time of globalization in which revolutionary communications technology brings us almost instantaneous connections to people throughout the world. These new technologies of the Internet have leapt over national borders and left lawmakers and police scrambling to catch-up. Internet users usually adopt and defend a position of unbridled libertarianism. Any kind of regulation or restriction is met with near hysteria and predictions of a totalitarian society. Even the most conservative restrictions on the transmission of child pornography are greeted with cries of censorship. In the December, 1996 issue of Wired, new state legislation in US that criminalized the transmission of indecent materials to minors was called censorship.

The attitude of Internet libertarianism coupled with US free speech absolutism is setting the standards for Internet communication. This political position of the Internet industry and its users, lack of regulation of the Internet, and lack of laws or enforcement of laws against sexual abuse and exploitation are contributing to the globalization and trafficking of women and children. Expressions of concern or condemnation of forms of sexual

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