Freelance writer, Norfolk, Virginia
Her blond hair is damp with steam as she lounges lasciviously across the bench in the sauna. Her body is long, tan, and lean and she strategically places her arm over her breasts. There are blurred spots covering other intimate areas. I am not describing a scene from a Cinemax replay of Red Shoe Diaries. Rather Britney Spears’ music video for “Womanizer.” Some argue that this music video highlighting a newly toned and sexually revived Britney, has brought her hemorrhaging career from the brink. From the scene in which she is a waitress that does a seductive dance, to her straddling the accused womanizer on top of a countertop in the restaurant’s kitchen. There is only one word to describe the video: sexy. This highlights a longstanding fact that all of us whom have been subjected to advertising have known for quite some time: Sex sells. But at what costs?
Sex in the Media
According to a report by David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. Former U.S. Surgeon General, “more than one-half of the programming on television has sexual content.” The history of using sex as an advertising tool was never so blatant as the 1980’s historic Calvin Klein commercial in which a then 15-year-old Brook Shields seductively declared, “You know what comes between me and my Calvin’s? Nothing.” However, according to Roger Streitmatter’s Sex Sells: The Media’s Journey from Repression to Obsession this type of sexual advertising often leads to suppositions about teen sexuality.
The early 90s saw a dramatic shift in the media in which the target demographic was teens and young adults. Programmers used sexually amped-up movies and television shows to capture their audience. The most well known of the former being American Pie. A memorable scene from this movie is when one of the characters, hesitant to have sexual intercourse, decides to perform oral sex instead. This brings about other societal questions including: what constitutes sex? Many teens view oral sex as different from intercourse. They consider these practices safer than sexual intercourse because it decreases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and HIV infections.
Although the media is a glaring example of an industry in which sexual exploitation is rampant, it appears so subtly that it has become accepted as another societal norm. There is a more blatant form of sexual exploitation that requires immediate attention: human trafficking.
Human Trafficking: A Worldwide Epidemic
The Department of State defines human trafficking as “Trafficking in persons in modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded, or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation.” Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and 50 percent are children, some as young as five-years-old. The Department of State estimates that there are approximately 18,000 to 20,000 individuals that are trafficked into the United States annually. Many of the victims are taken by force, while others are entrapped via false job opportunities and marriages. Human trafficking results in numerous health implications including: “homicide, suicide, psychosocial illness, communicable disease and infertility. The market for trafficked women and children is estimated at $7 to $12 billion annually.
Victims of trafficking are forced to risk their health and their lives servicing numerous clients daily. Health resources for the victims are scarce, and they are usually not in a position to negotiate the use of condoms. In a study of medical records for 246 women and girls who were trafficked in Nepal, ages ranging from 7–32, 74 were HIV positive, 48 of 235 had Syphilis infection, and 8 of 210 had Hepatitis B.
The United Nation and numerous governmental organizations have taken to address the issues specific to human trafficking. Those include the Palermo Protocols and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. However, the effects of sexual exploitation are widespread and varied. The utilization of sexual images in advertising can influence societal views about sexuality. Trafficking, a more blatant and violent form of sexual exploitation has long-term psychological and physical impacts that can affect the global community.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of the JSNMA, Volume 15, Number 1
Filed Under: Global Health
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