Friday, February 10, 2012

Reflections on Mamet's Take on Race (and Gender and Sex and Exploitation)


When a rich, powerful white man rapes a woman of color, how do our culture and our legal system react? These questions are central in David Mamet’s play Race, which is running at the Goodman Theater through February 19. Earlier this week, CAASE participated in a panel discussion at the theater with other advocates, examining constructs of sexual violence. (Spoiler alert—we talk about details from the play in this post.)

A few of us from the CAASE staff have seen the play, and in addition to dealing with the issues of race, sexual assault, and sexism, we believe the play also touches on exploitation within the sex trade. Some in the audience didn’t notice prostitution in the plot, or disagreed that it was present. However, Charles (the character who is accused of rape) admits that he gave the victim money and that he exploited her. At one point he asks his attorney, “Just because I gave her money, does that mean I paid her?”

I personally noticed that once it was revealed that the victim was in prostitution, the attorney characters shifted their attitudes in a way that could be summarize as: “Sure, he was a racist, but how could he have raped a prostituted woman?” This underscored the terrible myth that a woman in prostitution cannot be raped—that once money is exchanged, a woman gives up her right to say no.

These and many other criticisms were raised at the panel discussion. Caleb Probst, CAASE’s education outreach associate, spoke on the panel about how he teaches young men in high school about the realities of the sex trade. Caleb was in excellent company, as the panel featured Aishah Shahidah Simmons, producer, writer and director of NO! The Rape Documentary; Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates; Rachel Caidor, founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and was moderated by Alison Cuddy, host of WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight.

Several members of the panel were concerned that Mamet used sexual assault as a plot device to talk about race, and that the play perpetuated many myths about sexual assault. As Sharmili Majmudar pointed out, Race makes it seem like it’s very easy for a woman to make an accusation of rape. Sharmili also reflected on how we never hear the victim’s voice in Race, and this absence dehumanizes the victim.

Aishah Shahidah was deeply concerned about the use of racist and misogynist language in the play and felt like those hateful words were coming from Mamet himself. When an audience member asked if rape should ever be portrayed in art, Aishah recommended Ruined, a play by Lynne Nottage about rape in the Congo.

Rachel Caidor reported that when she attended the play, the audience seemed confused by the intersection of racism and sexism, and that people were laughing at moments that made her concerned. (I also noticed that people were laughing, sometimes out of discomfort.) Rachel balked at the idea that the character who was accused of rape didn’t know that he was racist. “You’re not an accidental racist or a rapist.”

Certainly, Mamet is a divisive playwright, but I believe the discussion that ensued at the Goodman was excellent. Have you seen or read this play? Do you think that it does a good job of addressing these issues, or does it fail? Again, Race runs at the Goodman through next week (student and day-of tickets are available at a discount),

Leave us a comment and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Good News and Bad News about Johns' Arrests

There is good news from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart today that there has been another “National Day of Johns Arrests.” According to the release, Dart led a nationwide, 10-day effort. From the release:A total of 314 sex buyers also known as “Johns” were arrested and charged with nearly $475,000 in fines.”  

End Demand Illinois is proud to see that one of our law enforcement partners is holding johns, pimps and traffickers accountable. We were also glad to hear that prostituted people were “offered services and safe housing opportunities to assist them in leaving their current situation.” So many people in prostitution are there because they face no other choices, but a person buying sex is almost always there by choice.

While this is an important shift and a glimmer of hope, we must also realize that the majority of prostitution-related arrests in this country are still of prostituted women, and not the men who buy sex. Johns are not usually held accountable for the harm they cause, and that is why they continue to buy sex. We applaud Sheriff Dart for his leadership, and urge you to take action in your own communities to encourage law enforcement to address demand. We still read stories every day, like this one out of Springfield, where a woman is arrested and the john is either let go or goes unmentioned. The headline says it all: "Woman accused of prostitution." You can take action:

If you see a story in your local paper about women being arrested, but no mention of johns, pimps or traffickers, write a letter to the editor. Call you local representatives and tell them that you want to end demand in your neighborhood. Find ways to end harm and demand change using our toolkit with easy action steps. Visit and to learn more.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mt. Prospect Pimp Convicted of Sex Trafficking

Further proof that sex trafficking is a local problem, Alex Campbell was convicted in a federal trial for selling women and girls out of a massage parlor in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect. Campbell recruited and prostituted women using force, fraud, and coercion and had his name tattooed on their bodies to claim his ownership. While CAASE applauds this successful conviction of a known sex trafficker, we also urge the community to hold the men who purchase sex (johns) accountable, as well. Johns come from all walks of life, races, religions, and economic classes, and they are directly responsible for fueling the perpetual demand of sex trafficking. 

It is great to see that Alex Campbell was convicted, especially after the dramatic journey of his prosecution. You may recall that a witness in this case recognized the previous defense lawyer as a patron of the massage parlor. While the defense attorney claimed that he had never bought sex and simply went for a massage, he was dismissed from the case. We are glad to see that the prior histrionics surrounding this case did not prevent justice being served.

This case dispels the common misconception that the women employed in these massage parlors are there by choice. Typically, johns pay a house fee of $60 - $90 per half hour or hour plus occasional tips; the women are pressured to "please the customer" in order to receive tips.  These unpredictable tips are the women's sole source of income to pay the numerous fees and interest rates they are charged by the network. The men who frequent these establishments are knowingly there to buy sex, fueling the demand for trafficked women.

In a CAASE study of 113 johns, 20 % of interviewees thought that they had bought sex from women who were trafficked from other countries. Many more certainly purchased sex from trafficked women without realizing it or caring. CAASE supports the continued prosecution of sex traffickers, and also urges law enforcement to focus more attention on demand. To learn more about how you can help end demand, visit End Demand, IL.

This post is from Lauren Rankin, CAASE's communications intern.