In the guise of a typical action thriller, ‘Skin Trade’ offers a glimpse of the notorious forced sex trade. As a title card at that end of the movie in black and white grimly says, ‘20 to 30 million individuals are trafficked worldwide annually. An estimated 98% of sex trafficking victims are women and children.’ Usually tricked by hopes of a better life, the promised land often becomes hell that is difficult to escape from. The well-oiled gears of such crimes can be as treacherous as they are hard to dismantle. What else can we do, but to keep skilfully whistleblowing on both sellers and buyers?
It might come as surprising to the less informed, that slavery is unfortunately still very much alive in our supposedly much more civilised times. The accomplices and victims in crime are more global in nature than imagined. Think the unthinkable, of parents selling their daughters for prostitution. Think rural youngsters lured by the bright lights of city life. Think abduction, control by forced drug addiction, and threat of harming family members. Think of evils so lucrative and devious that even arms of the law seem to fall short.
A policeman interrogates a ring leader, hoping to awaken his conscience, ‘How the hell can you sleep at night? How can you do this? Buy and sell human lives?’ He replies, ‘Ask my customers. When they stop buying, I stop selling.’ Of course, this is classic bad rationale perpetuating evil, yet, it does make sense halfway… If there is no constant demand, there would be no sense in keeping up a ready supply. The seller blames the buyer for sustaining his evil trade, while the buyer blames the seller for providing his ‘products and services’. Being equally culpable halves of a cycle, the buyer is as guilty as the seller. When selling lessens, buying lessens, just as buying lessens when selling lessens.
As the Buddha taught in the Vanijja Sutta, we ‘should not engage in five types of business… Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poisons.‘ These five wrong livelihoods that profit from the suffering of other sentient beings share the trait of being exploitative, sometimes to the extent of being murderous. Yes, they include slavery, of both humans and animals, production and distribution of intoxicating drugs that can become poisons. May we all play no part as buyers or sellers of any unwholesome livelihood!
Though not encouraged, prostitution per se, if involving consenting adults instead of any forced or underaged party, is not definitely a wrong livelihood. However, as it feeds lust, which binds beings to the rounds of rebirth, it is still seen as unwholesome. That said, in the Buddha’s time, he did not look down upon prostitutes, and was open to teaching them the Dharma. He even openly accepted Ambapali, a famous courtesan’s meal offering, who later offered the Sangha her mango grove as a monastery. Renouncing her occupation, she was also accepted into the Sangha as a nun and later realised enlightenment.