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Helen Fisher

Excerpted from: Helen Fisher, The Sex Slave Trade: Biological Imperatives, Cultural Trends, And The Coming Empowerment of Women , 13 Hastings Women's Law Journal 21-29, 26-28 (Winter 2002) (25 Footnotes)


Although men and women are capable of engaging in clandestine mating, this does not mean that the sex slave trade is either "good" or "inevitable." Laymen unfamiliar with the basic tenets of the evolutionary sciences often commit what academics call the "naturalistic fallacy," the tendency to believe that what is "natural" is also "good." However, the naturalistic fallacy is just that: a fallacy. For example, just because most mammals are territorial and warlike, it does not follow that war is "good." Using the same logic: despite the fact that many women are genetically predisposed to risk illegal immigration, despite the fact that sex slave traffickers are predisposed to take advantage of strict immigration policies, and despite the fact that men have a natural taste for sexual variety, it does not follow that society should condone the sex slave trade.

Nor does brain architecture suggest that the sex slave trade is inevitable. On the contrary, this social ill can be cured. I propose several reasons for an optimistic future.

Foremost, humans have evolved a sophisticated brain mechanism to direct, even overcome, basic drives, what I call "mind," what others call the"self," the "ego," or the "psyche." Mind, I hypothesize, resides, in part, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This region lies directly behind the forehead; it more than tripled in size during the course of human evolution. Neuroscientists call the prefrontal cortex the "central executive" or the "crossroads of the mind" because it is connected to almost every other part of the brain and body and it is devoted to processing information. With this part of the brain, we collect myriad bits of data. We order and weigh them as they accumulate. We put them into patterns. We reason hypothetically. We analyze contingencies. We consider options. We plan for the future. We make decisions. Philosopher John Dewey once said, "mind is a verb." I agree. The mind does something. We think. We act in sui generis ways.

Neuroscientists believe that other regions of the brain are also involved in mind. Among them may be the "Orientation Association Area" which resides in the parietal lobe of the cortex. These and other neural regions enable humans to watch and assess the multimedia "movie in the brain." So with the evolution of the human prefrontal cortex, the Orientation Association Area (and undoubtedly many other linked brain regions) our hominid ancestors acquired a brain mechanism that enabled them to make decisions, even override the potent brain circuits for lust, romantic attraction, and long-term attachment.

In short, biology predisposes women to take risks to gain resources for their future offspring. Biology predisposes some men and women to take advantage of strict immigration laws to prey on vulnerable young women. Biology predisposes men to seek sexual variety, thereby supporting the sex slave trade. But with their uniquely human minds, women can find alternatives to gain economic stability for their families, and men can find alternative means to assuage their libidos. We need to provide both sexes with alternative solutions to satisfy their needs.

One solution is to liberalize immigration rules and enable more young women from poor countries to migrate legally and cheaply.

Another solution is to provide women with greater economic and educational opportunities in their own countries. In fact, this is beginning to happen. Data from a 1995 report by the United Nations on 130 societies indicates that in almost all of these societies, the gap between men and women in terms of health, education, and economic resources is decreasing, albeit slowly.

A third solution is to support organizations that educate prostitutes about their rights.

A fourth solution is to break the sex slave networks by severely punishing traffickers and their customers.

A final solution is to educate the men who frequent sex slaves, perhaps even providing these clients with substitutes by legalizing prostitution.

Most of these solutions are highly controversial; all are exceedingly difficult to achieve. However, one dramatic worldwide trend does augur a decline in the sex slave trade.

Research Professor and Member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University.

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