by Patricia McCormick
Lesson: The legalization of prostitution is a necessary human rights issue that will not win anyone a Nobel Peace Prize.
Our English department had an administrator (she has since moved on) who wanted to keep the book Sold on the curriculum but thought that teachers should teach it without the sex and rape parts. Her view was that the content was too mature for tenth graders, but that the book had literary value, and that it did a good job of exposing students to Nepali culture and so on. For those of you who haven’t read the book (I recommend that you do), it’s titled Sold because the young girl gets literally sold by her step-father to a brothel in India (it’s unclear whether he knows he’s selling her to a brothel, or into some other form of indentured servitude. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t care, one way or the other.) So our orders were to teach a book titled Sold, about a girl who gets sold and forced into prostitution, but to leave out the rape parts.
The book Night was also on the tenth-grade curriculum, and nobody was being asked to teach it without mentioning the brutalization-and-genocide parts. I think sex is seen as more of a taboo than violence – in other words, literary scenes of brutal torture are more likely to be given a pass than scenes of brutal rape, especially of a protagonist who was about the same age as the tenth graders reading the book.
That said, Sold isn’t particularly graphic. The book doesn’t shy away from the fact that Lakshmi, and many other girls, were raped, but it was in no way a book written purely for “shock value.” Patricia McCormick wrote the book to help shed light on a very real problem, especially in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, but also in the United States, Canada, and just about anywhere where prostitution is illegal.
When I first read this book, probably back in 2010 or so, I became obsessed with researching modern human smuggling. Turns out, it’s much less risky than smuggling drugs or guns (traffickers can claim that the girl is their niece and pay off border agents); the girls are desperately poor and uneducated; they are lied to and believe they are taking jobs as house-keepers or sometimes strippers; they are drugged and raped; if ever they were to escape, they don’t even know where their village geographically is, they would likely be arrested by local authorities on the spot, and, should they make it back to their village, they will likely be treated as a pariah for the rest of their lives. This is a very common story, but because it has to do with sex, we treat it the same way we treat people with profound physical disabilities – we just don’t look.
By legalizing prostitution, you take away the incentive for traffickers to risk kidnapping and raping girls. There will always be women willing to sell sex, just as there will always be men willing to buy it. I don’t expect the person who takes up legalizing prostitution as a passion-project to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but they should. Young, poor, village girls are having their lives destroyed in the most brutal and uncaring ways imaginable. It would take fairly simple legislative action to eliminate much of it.