Hooker Hunting in God's Country

By Sarah Braasch

[Editor's Note: Please welcome Sarah Braasch back to Daylight Atheism for her second guest post! You can read Sarah's bio from a post last month.]

A few months ago, through some fault of my own, I found myself on a driving tour of Naples, Italy, assiduously avoiding the unwanted sexual advances of some US Navy boys. I was not enjoying myself much at all when one of the sailors suggested we go hooker hunting, as he so charmingly phrased it. I was suddenly rapt with attention and very keen to experience the famed seedy underbelly of Naples. I was also more than a little concerned that my companions intended to do more than window shop, but that was not about to dissuade me from witnessing the Neapolitan sex industry first hand.

I will never forget their eyes. They were either vacant and dead or hostile and menacing. Some were Eastern European. Some were from the Maghreb. Some were sub-Saharan African. Almost all of them wore either mini skirts or hot pants with fishnet stockings and bustiers. All of them wore heavy makeup. Most of them were at least decently attractive, with long, thin legs. They were congregated in small groups of twos and threes, seemingly along racial or ethnic lines. The Eastern Europeans were leaning against street signs outside of the train station in the middle of the night. The Africans relieved themselves next to their shaded deck chairs along the side of the highway.

I could tell when I made eye contact with them that they knew I was a curious but casual sexual tourist, not an active participant. I wondered if it made them angry or embarrassed. I wondered if they felt shame. I wondered if people ever took pictures of them. Suddenly, it felt very shameful to be viewing these women, as if I were conducting a laboratory experiment. It reminded me of a very painful memory from my distant past.

When I was an undergrad, a classmate and I were interns at Boeing in Seattle. I had accompanied her to Los Gatos, in the Silicon Valley, just outside of San Francisco, to visit an elderly couple, distant family members of hers. They must have been in their late eighties or early nineties. They were charming and kind and hospitable. They took us on a driving tour of all of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. Then, they drove us through East Palo Alto, an economically depressed, crime-ridden area with a high minority population. They called it East Palo Africa. They rolled up the windows and locked the doors. They pointed at the black men, women, and children and laughed. I was in a state of shock, and I was paralyzed. I knew that they were very old, but I couldn’t believe that people still behaved like this. I knew that I should have done something. I should have said something. I should have asked them to stop. I should have jumped from the car. I should have yelled or screamed. But, I didn’t. I didn’t do or say anything. And, I’ve never forgotten it, and I’ve never stopped regretting my inaction.

“This is different,” I tried to tell myself. “I’m doing this so that I can write about this experience, so that I can expose this atrocity, these human rights violations.” But, as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I felt sick and vile, like a monster, and I wanted to go home. The sailors continued to point and laugh and make prurient and lewd jokes.

The nonchalance of the entire enterprise baffled me. Cars pull up to negotiate their sexual purchases while the vendors hawk and flaunt their wares. No one bats an eye. Twenty feet away, families greet one another with loving embraces after long journeys. Police cars roll by. On Sunday, we watched desperate trollops chase after wary buyers on the freeway. Apparently, there is no Sabbath for streetwalkers. How can human beings be so inured to the suffering of their fellow creatures? As a human rights activist, I am sometimes awestruck by the absence of humanity in humans. And, how to account for the insensitivity? It is in our nature? Or, can we rise above? What is holding us back?

I think religion is holding us back. It is all too easy to view human beings as unworthy of your sympathy and care if you think of them as the damned and filthy heathen hordes shunned by your Almighty. I should know. This is how I used to think as an inculcated Jehovah’s Witness child. It’s amazing how easily the prevalence of religious law lends itself to lawlessness. I was flabbergasted by the lawlessness. The irony was not lost on us. Here we were, in the ancestral home of the Catholic Church, in one of the most religious countries on earth, where 85% of the population considers themselves Catholic, and the market for cheap sex was apparently insatiable.

I have visited some of the most religious and some of the most irreligious places on earth. I have yet to experience this so called disparity in morality, in favor of religion, which the advocates for religion seem to assume exists. In fact, as far as women are concerned, my experience has revealed an inversely proportional relationship. The more religious the society, the worse the human rights violations perpetrated against women, the less “moral” men behave towards women. I find the claims to some sort of moral superiority on the part of religious societies and pundits to be specious at best, if not down right disingenuous, not to mention sexist, patriarchal, and misogynistic.

I guess it all depends on your definition of morality. If it includes, as it does in so many religious societies, the reproductive and sexual enslavement of women by men, then, yes, of course, religion does impart morality.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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