Reading the Story of the Levite’s Concubine Through the Lens of Modern-day Sex Trafficking -- By: Mitzi J. Smith

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 41:0 (NA 2009)
Article: Reading the Story of the Levite’s Concubine Through the Lens of Modern-day Sex Trafficking
Author: Mitzi J. Smith


Reading the Story of the Levite’s Concubine Through the Lens of Modern-day Sex Trafficking

Mitzi J. Smith*

The story of the gang rape and mutilation of a Levite’s concubine wife in Judges 19 is a difficult text to read; it is indeed a “text of terror,” as Phyllis Trible has argued.1 This text of terror constitutes for some the quintessential narrative for elucidating oppression and violence perpetrated against women and their victimization. Texts both reflect and critique everyday life. Texts of terror contain vivid and mundane images of women’s oppression and brutality. They reflect and critique our ignorance, complicity, and culpability in the brutality and victimization of women and others. We resist the idea that the perpetrators of heinous acts could be one of us, anyone like us, or anyone familiar to us.

Our text is fraught with and reeks of images and language of familiarity. Familiarity can and often does render risk and danger invisible. What is familiar and therefore often normal requires little caution or critique. Ideas of personal or communal safety and minimization of risk are often based on familiarity. Normally expected behavior, particularly normalcy practiced by authoritative or dominant persons or institutions, can camouflage or render invisible oppression and violence. In contexts of perceived familiarity and/or normalcy, oppression and brutality against women and children can more easily occur with little or no interference. We warn our children, and rightly so, to beware of strangers. But traffickers in human flesh are often not strangers. Every year thousands of women and children, drawn from every corner of the world, are recruited or drafted into modern-day sex slavery in the United States.2 “In story after story, a trafficker, often a known member of the community, a friend of the family, or sometimes a relative, offers a better life in America.”3

This paper offers an analysis and reading of the story of the unnamed Levite’s concubine (secondary or slave) wife4 both through the lens of and in tandem with the phenomenon of modern-day sex slavery or human sex trafficking. The concept of familiarity, as manifested in language and relationships weaved throughout the text, will serve as a dominant theme for analyzing this story. Among the ancients, the most vulnerable in society (conquered and subjugated men, women and children) could be enslaved. In modern-day sex slavery the most vulnerable in society are preye...

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