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July 29, 2019

“All Used Up” — The Human Toll of Prostitution

It may be the oldest, but for many “on the game,” the sleazy profession of prostitution is a relentless stripper of every ounce of human dignity.

In a recent Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday podcast titled When You Know Better, You Do Better I listened to the harrowing story of Contessa, a mother of five, who went from having it all (a comfortable home, two cars, a husband and children) to one day finding herself without it all — on the streets selling her body in prostitution.

Her two years on the street saw her hospitalized numerous times for abuses ranging from rape and face-slicing to being stabbed with an ice pick and being held at gunpoint. Although she eventually quit the game and began participating in PRIDE — a Minneapolis program helping women and teens recover from sexual exploitation — the deeply embedded feeling of being “dirty,” valueless and ashamed, took years to shed.

In her words: “I am all used up.”

Holding herself hostage to who she used to be – or rather what she used to do – is not untypical of those who survive prostitution on the streets. Reclaiming a sense of wholeness and dignity can take years to achieve, once it has been stripped away by shameless pimps and predators.

Misappropriation of language doesn’t help ..

The other day on a raod trip with my kids, my 12-year-old daughter was happily playing some of her favorite songs by P!nk. I get the raw, social justice, stand-up-and-be-counted sentiment to many of P!nk’s songs; what I don’t get, and feel is regrettable, is the constant use of expletives in many of her lyrics. Like these lines from ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’:

Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than fuckin’ perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you’re nothing
You’re fuckin’ perfect to me!

Or this lyric from ‘I Am Here’:

I wanna make some mistakes, I wanna sleep in the mud
I wanna swim in the flood, I wanna fuck ’til I’m done ..

When lyrics are laced with this kind of aggression and sexual excess — albeit in the cause of justice, liberation and indignation —I’m not sure that it serves the cause of women’s rights and dignity. What do such loose lyrics do for 12-year-olds like my daughter? To me they prematurely sexualize and vulgarize their evolving sense of identity, in a culture already steeped in the degradation of women.

As I put it in my debut book, Do It Anyway: Deep Spirituality Meets Real Life:

Violence against women and societal degradation of women in general is … rife across the globe. From prostitution and child sex slavery to the vulgarization and brutalization of female sexuality in the sleazy multi-billion dollar porn industry, to the embedded on-campus rape culture of U.S. colleges, women have been objectified and commodified in the most appalling ways imaginable.

And that’s just their bodies. Their intelligence, creative potential, intuitive and intellectual input, not to mention their humanitarian service to generations, have all been severely sidelined in a human history of patriarchal arrogance and ignorance.

Whether a refugee family fleeing the intolerable conditions of their homeland, a browbeaten transgender army lietenant, a reformed neo-fascist white supremacist, or a Contessa who has survived the brutality of street life as a prostitute, no individual is ever “all used up” when it comes to innate human dignity, inviolable human rights, and inexhaustible human potential.

To uphold this resounding truth we need: moral and humanitarian leadership from our elected representatives; indefatigable enthusiasm from our environmental and human rights activists; irrepressible and evolutionary faith from our spiritual leaders; prophetic and wholesome creativity from our artists and musicians; and faithfulness to the mission we signed up for in this lifetime from ourselves — trusting, of course, that that mission was to serve the greater good of all conscious and sentient life on the planet; and leaving it in a healthier, rather than depleted, state for generations to come

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