In Sister K’s country there is a booming business in forced prostitution. The local police protect it and even hunt down girls who try to run away, often returning them to the stockades where they are held. Sister K. is personally aware of almost sixty brothels where she has found hundreds of young girls kept in subjection by “whip, fist, boot and bulldog”-some girls only thirteen and fourteen years old.
A state appointed investigator assigned to look into the issue visited a single brothel and concluded that there was “no necessity for state interference in the matter.” But Sister K. knows differently, and the brutal reality is beyond comprehension. She learned that one of the women held in prostitution was actually murdered by being soaked in oil and burned alive. The coroner’s report of her death even named the perpetrator. It read, “Burned to death by W. H. Griffin.” But the man was never charged with a crime. Local politicians prevent any legal action from being taken against the forced prostitution rings because they owe their position and influence to the wealthy business interests behind the brothels.
In the face of such injustice what can Sister K. do?
Kate Bushnell: Abolishing Forced Prostitution
A hundred years ago Dr. Kate Bushnell served as a national evangelist for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the United States. A devout evangelical Christian, Dr. Kate Bushnell was heartbroken by the plight of girls victimized by white slavery in America. Hard as it may be to imagine today, the dens of forced prostitution described earlier were rampant in the logging camps and mining communities of northern Wisconsin and Michigan in the 1880’s. It was in Ashland, Wisconsin, that Dr. Bushnell encountered the murder of the woman who was burned alive with impunity.
While in some cases police responded to the peas of women who were seeking to escape their bondage, other times they didn’t listen and even returned runaways to their brothels. The existence of these dens and dance halls of rape was largely supported by the local community. The owners and patrons of such establishments exercised enough political power to prevent legal action against the brothels. Local doctors supported their existence because their frequent examination of the women provided a source of additional income. And local businessmen found that brothels provided a boost to the local economy.
Dr. Bushnell looked in vain for someone to properly investigate these conditions. Finding no one willing to take the risks, she did it herself. Facing tremendous personal danger, she infiltrated scores of brothels and interviewed hundreds of women held in bondage. “She would search for reliable witnesses having personal knowledge of an involvement in the case under investigation. She insisted on talking to inmates, viewing the situation herself. One side of the story, from one witness, was not enough . . . Having penetrated the brothel by one excuse or another, she was able by various pretexts to obtain proof of the conditions that existed there.”
Dr. Bushnell reported her findings at a Chicago convention of the WCTU. The state of Wisconsin vehemently denied her findings, and the state inspector even attempted to discredit her by accusing Dr. Bushnell herself of “unchastity.” When she appeared before the Wisconsin state legislature, she had to be escorted by police because of threats of violence against her. Standing before the hostile assembly, she initially felt overwhelmed as the only woman in the room. But being a woman of prayer, she lifted her heart to God, “whereupon the door opened quietly, and about fifty ladies of the highest social position at the State Capital filed in, and stood all about me. There were no seats for them; they stood all the time I talked-and I had plenty of courage as I realized how good God was to send them.”
Despite the attacks on Dr. Bushneland her study, “the whole country was agitated on the white slave question by the disclosures” she had made. Her findings were substantiated by subsequent studies conducted by both public officials and private researchers. The result of her work was the passage of the bill in the Wisconsin legislature that finally dealt with the scourge of forced prostitution in a serious way. The bill was appropriately labeled “the Kate Bushnell Bill.” Later Dr. Bushnell took her Christian witness to India and China, where she and other Christians challenged the complicity of British colonial officials in the rampant trafficking of women and girls in forced prostitution.
Excerpt taken from: Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen