Want to Fight Sex Trafficking? Don't See Magic Mike


My gaze swept the crowded club as I felt the deafening music throb through my body. Cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air, paired with the scent of sweat and alcohol. But like everyone else in the place, my attention was not on my surroundings, but on the small stage in the center of the room. On the stage stood over 30 young women, swaying half-heartedly to the beat of the music and trying to stay in the middle of the crowded stage.

All of the women wore a number pinned to them, usually hanging from the top of a very tiny bikini that barely covered the most private areas of their bodies. Around them, men leered over the rim of their drinks at the barely-clothed bodies and inspected the merchandise for the one they wanted. Once a man made his choice, he picked up a laser and pointed it at the girl he wanted. Exchanging nervous looks with the other girls, the chosen girl tottered off the stage in her stiletto heels, trying to fix an alluring smile on her face as she made her way to her next customer.

For the past six months, I’ve been traveling the world, listening to women’s stories and sharing with them how much God loves them and how worthy they are.

I’ve held the hand of women who were abused, betrayed, and abandoned by their husbands, I’ve comforted girls who still struggle with nightmares and awful memories from their time in the bars and brothels, and I’ve looked into the faces of my fellow women all around the world who are hungry for love, worth, and attention, just like me.

In the Philippines, my ministry included going into bars and inviting the girls working inside to come out of that lifestyle and get a free education so they never have to work in a bar again. I went into a hopeless place to offer hope. But it was hard not to become overwhelmed with the darkness in those places.

In the bars, women are nothing more than objects. The men who go to these bars have one thing on their mind: sex. Whether or not they take a girl to their hotel and use her for the night is irrelevant. When they are sitting in the bar, leering at the girls on display, their minds are undressing the girls and imagining what they want to do to them. These girls laugh and flirt, acting like each man they meet is the most important one in the world. If you ask the men (and I have) if the girls like what they do, they always say “Yes! They love it! They choose to work here. They get paid a lot of money, and they love what they do. Every time I come in here they look like they’re having so much fun, and they tell me how much they love me.” Ask the girls if they enjoy their work, and you’ll get a different answer.

“I hate this work. I hate sitting with customers. I’m ashamed of the things I’ve done, been asked or forced to do. Every time a man calls me over I want to run away, but I also want the extra money so I can help take care of my family.”

I’ve sat there and listened to the stories of the girls still in the bars and the girls who have chosen to leave, and I’ve seen a common theme: these girls desperately want to be loved and seen as worthy and valuable, and yet they work in places where everyone treats them like objects on display. I think we would all agree that this is not okay. Treating human beings like objects strips them of their inherent dignity and value. These girls are objects of lust for the men who use them. The men don’t care about their story, personality, and dreams. The men want their own desires fulfilled, and the girls in the bars are a convenient way for that to happen.

What lust and movies have to do with fighting sex trafficking

While I was serving overseas, the sequel to Magic Mike hit the theaters. I couldn’t even watch the entire trailer without thinking about the things I’ve witnessed in the bars. The trailer shows men on display, their well-oiled muscles flexing as women scream and reach out to touch them. It features men dancing suggestively, stripping off their clothing and miming sexual acts as women go crazy over the “eye candy” before them. I bet that the images in heads of these women were all about what they hoped to do to the men on display. Their fantasies reigned supreme, and the men on display were the objects of those fantasies.

Friend, how is this any different from what happens every night in bars in Asia?

So many women rationalize going to view movies like Magic Mike. “I’m not hurting anyone! I’m not abusing someone against their will. I’m not acting on these fantasies! What’s the harm in that? At least I don’t go and buy a prostitute like those men who go to Asia for sex tourism.” No, you might not purchase a girl or a man and force them to have sex with you. But I would argue that filling your head with movies like Magic Mike and other images and fantasies is no different from those who do so. Lust is lust, no matter how it is fulfilled.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. -1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

We were created with a sex drive, but we were not created to allow it to reign and dictate our actions. Treating other human beings like objects is not okay. Using another human being to fulfill your desires and wants is not okay. Jesus once said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

We are daughters of a King. We are called to live, as royalty, to a higher standard: a standard of purity and honor and respect. We cannot truly honor someone as a child of God if we are using them for the fulfillment of our own lust.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way. -Psalm 119:37

Our thought life needs to be kept as pure and blameless as the rest of us (Romans 12:2). How can we act with justice, respect and honor if we are not laying a foundation for our actions? How can we fight the injustice of the sex trade if we are in bondage to lust ourselves?