Virgin Territory: Theology, Purity, and the Rise of the Global Sex Trade
Sex sells. A lot. But who exactly is on the market?
What kinds of bodies are calibrated for traffic and consumption, and how exactly do they get there? When it comes to “sex” trafficking—which comprises a minority percentage of human trafficking, yet dominates the moral imagination as an “especially heinous” crime—the rise in predominantly white, evangelical Christian American interest in the trafficked subject galvanizes an ethical outrage that rarely observes critiques of race, ethnicity, sexuality or class as conditions of possibility. Though a nuanced mandate to fight trafficking is all but cemented in the contemporary American political and moral conscience, Virgin Territory accounts for the ways Christian ideas of purity annex both gender and sexuality inside the legacies of racialized colonial encounter, and foreground the market expansion of the global sex trade as it exists today.
In Part I, I argue that the narratives of virginity tied to Mary’s body simultaneously foregrounded the gendered, sexed Other as sparked disdain for the religious Other, for the Jewish body and for Mary’s Jewish identity. Through this analysis I explore the connections of racial identity to the Christian theological elision of Jewish election. I demonstrate how the questions of sexual ethics materialized at the site of the Virgin Mary, and align the moral attachments of sex and purity in the production of whiteness. These machinations, tied to the emerging European identity of empire, irrupt horrifically into the narrative ontology of dark flesh in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
In Part II, I highlight the function of these narratives inside of the moments of colonial encounter, demonstrating how the logics of purity and virginity were directly applied to manage dark female flesh. I map the visual iconography of the Black Madonna first through a Dutch painting entitled The Rape of the Negress. I read this image through the social theological imagination instantiating the idea of the reprobate body and white imperial gaze. This analysis foregrounds a theological reading of Sarah Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus,” as the center of a complex sex trafficking investigation, outlining the genealogy of race, as well as the ideologies of the racial, ethnic and national Other, as mitigating factors in the conditions of possibility of a global sex trade. By restoring these narratives and their theological undertones, I reiterate the ways Christian thought is imbricated in the global sex trade, and propose theological strategies for rethinking humanitarian responses to sex trafficking.
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