The Perpetuation of Women in Bondage

The topic of enslaved women may be a serious subject yet it remains ill-discussed, leaving many ill-versed on the female tragedies which have occurred and are ongoing. Sex slavery is a prime example of modern slavery; it is an industry in which women in particular are forced into commercial and non-consensual sex acts. A calamitous and detrimental crime, it is estimated that “there are 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide.” This leads one to wonder: is misogyny an inner truth of slavery?

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The victimization of women can be traced back to the American institution of slavery in the nineteenth century. It familiarizes itself within the autobiography of former slave Frederick Douglass, in which Douglass reveals his witness of the misconduct instilled upon a female slave by their slave owner: “The secret of master’s cruelty toward Henny is found in the fact of her being almost helpless… She was to master a bill of expense; and as he was a mean man, she was a constant offence to him.” The slave owner proceeded to humiliate and excessively whip Henny due to her physical injuries which had severed her from performers of proper slave labor. His abhorrence towards the young woman was solely based on her inability to follow his orders, not due to threatening attitudes such as reluctance or resistance (as if that would serve as justification for his maliciousness). To master, Henny was a loss-making, hopeless cause who only deserved punishment. His destructive mindset only goes to show the limited value, if any, of black slave women to others.

 

The same harmful nature inflicted unto female slaves during life on the plantation can be identified in another nineteenth century source: the slave song “Black Lulu” written by Geo. W. Symonds. Slaves would sing aloud in custom and chorus:

Black Lulu, my darling black gal,
I wonder where de black gal am gone
Oh she’s gone far away where de wood-bines twine,
An I’ll never see de black gal again.

The lyrics exemplify the normality of missing slave women presumably due to runaway attempts or more likely death. The references of both Douglass and Symonds display the history of female subjugation in the U.S. as women were subject to sexualization, submission, and brutality at a far greater degree than that of their male counterparts. For centuries it has been apparent that women are dangerously objectified and treated as commodities specifically within systems of slavery alike.

Corrupt bondage of women is perpetuated today, revealed explicitly by survivors of sex trafficking. Shandra Woworuntu’s personal story as an Indonesian immigrant exposes the chauvinistic conditions and consequences of prostitution. Woworuntu, who entered the U.S. in search of financial security, was forcibly taken into the sex industry where she responded to the physical aggression with subordination, stating in her own words: “I was terrified, but something in my head clicked into place – some kind of survival instinct. I learned from witnessing that first act of violence to do what I was told.” This fear of authority ultimately trapped her into years of forced sex, violence, and drug-taking, as well as many more years of post-trauma once rescued. Woworuntu is only a single case in the criminal world of sex slavery where everyday women are targeted and stripped of their livelihoods for profits and male consumption.

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A flier I was coincidentally given during my research for this topic and the first PSA regarding sex trafficking that I have ever received.

The answer is yes. Injustice and degradation of women is prominent and prevalent in the modern system of sex trafficking. It is a generational extension of the same misogynistic abuse found in the peculiar institution which this country was founded upon. It is necessary to understand the circumstances of the industry, as stigma around it constantly places the female victims at fault or in shame. Prostitution is severe and the aforementioned estimate of humans involved does not go to include the number who are silenced and kept hidden. Nothing is more vital than acknowledging the words of survivors and being attentive; standing up for women is essential and creates a significant impact as demonstrated by the Women’s March on Washington just last weekend. With knowledge and willpower, social movement will pave the way towards social justice.

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