At the same time, it must be noted that these same Evangelicals are the principal advocates of "abstinence only" as a model of sex education. So we hope they will think hard about the possibility that this model may inadvertently make it harder for sexual slaves to seek their own freedom.
Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at 14, raped, and held captive for nine months. Since her rescue, she has grown to adulthood, formed a foundation to educate children about sexual crimes. Speaking recently at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, she talked about why it was so hard for her to escape:
[Smart explained that] she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
Let's not overreach. For one thing, Smart was not raised in an Evangelical Christian household, but in a Mormon one. For another, she was kidnapped, rather than than "trafficked" in the commercial sense. And, critically, we are aware of no evidence at all that the women trafficked for sexual purposes are more likely than any others to come from religious families.
Still, "abstinence only" educational efforts are only one of the many ways that societies worldwide have historically used sexual shame to exercise control over their members, and especially over women. Take away the shame, and how many enslaved prostitutes might not feel free to break their chains?