I remember when Pretty Woman came out in the theaters. Many loved the romance while others lamented the impossibility much less the improbability of a prostitute and a tycoon falling in love. Reading reviews, it was my first exposure to the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope. I remember Saturday Night Live spoofing it with their rendition of a respectable business man falling for a herpes laden, drugged out prostitute. Some Christians, if I remember correctly, were infuriated by the movie. After all, it seemed to glorify human trafficking. I was twenty two at the time and thought Richard Gere was cute and Julia Roberts was funny.
Now twenty seven years later, human trafficking is the province of missionaries and philanthropists. The Bible still has something to say about what society chooses to vilify, ignore, or worse, tacitly approve. I truly appreciate the various ministries that rescue women and the efforts of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher to bring this issue to light.
We must begin to see the women caught in the cycle of trafficking in the same light that the Bible always saw them. As people.
There are three “fallen” women whose story is told in the Bible. Each of them is given a particular honor. And let me make clear that the Bible clearly does not advocate human trafficking, but tells the stories of humans caught up in circumstances beyond their control. The first, Tamar, is a victim of horrendous sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. Her first two husbands die, leaving her without a child. One of her husbands, Onan, so offends God, He simply offs him. I am a little amused and terrified by the idea that God snuffed him out like a candle.
According to Jewish law, Tamar was entitled to marry every brother in that family until she either had a child to care for her in her old age, or until she ran out of brothers. With only one brother left, Judah, her father-in-law, seems to see her as some sort of black widow. But he had to know what enormous putzes his sons were and how badly Tamar was treated. I do not believe in his ignorance.
Tamar masquerades as a prostitute and exchanges her body for Judah’s ring. She gets pregnant, and Judah demands her execution as a loose woman until she produces the ring. She achieves justice, and her reward is that she is directly in the generational line of Jesus. She also gets the only retirement package available to widows, namely their children. And Judah’s predilection for purchased sex exposes the source of his two eldest sons’ perversions and crimes against Tamar.
Of course, we know now that most sex workers are victims of abuse. The tie between sexual abuse and sex trafficking is well-documented. See below for scholarly articles on the topic. I randomly chose only two of the thousands available online. Tamar felt she had no other choice. Neither do millions of other women.
Rahab is next on the list. I have always found it interesting that she too is included in the generational line of Jesus. In fact, after she helped bring down Jericho, she married into Joshua’s family.
While we can’t know what we can’t know, I suspect the reason she was a prostitute in Jericho was not due to choice.
After all, she jumps at the chance to escape her former life. And even today, many cultures severely limit women’s life options. And when researchers interview women caught in sex trafficking, few freely choose their profession. Most would rather do anything else, but do not see a way out.
Lastly, Mary Magdalene is one of Jesus’ followers. He heals her mind and spirit, and she leaps at a chance at a new life. In fact, she has the honor of preparing Jesus’ body after death, and of seeing him after the resurrection. She is given a place of honor, while the Pharisees condemn the compassion of Jesus. But then Jesus is always able to look past whatever taint society imputes to the lost, the diseased, and the unlovable.
For me, the most powerful ministry of Jesus is the overturning of Old Testament decrees about the many circumstances that make men and women unclean. He touches lepers, the dead, and a woman with an issue of blood, and they become clean.
I love that the Bible ignores our tendencies to see women as objects. I love that the Bible subverts our prejudices by seeing inconvenient women as humans. But most of all, I love that no shame is imputed to these women because of what was done to their bodies. That each of these women is given a place of honor down through the ages should be a check in our own spirits about assumptions we make regarding those who have been abused. From blaming victims of rape to objectifying women, we as a society defile only ourselves when we abuse women, including the purchasing of their bodies. Jesus loves every woman. And so should we love our sisters.
Just a couple of studies on the relationship between sexual abuse and sex trafficking. There are thousands more articles available.
Sexual Abuse as a Precursor to Prostitution and Victimization Among Adolescent and Adult Homeless Women, RL Simons, LB Whitbeck – Journal of Family Issues, 1991 – journals.sagepub.com
Gwenda M. Willis and Jill S. Levenson
Journal of Sexual Aggression Vol. 22 , Iss. 3,2016