The historic novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo tells the story of several characters who fall victim to 19th-century French society. Fantine, a struggling single mother, is forced into circumstances that parallel what countless women face today. Unable to find work and falling behind on her debts to her child’s caretakers, Fantine is forced to sell all of her belongings, hair, teeth, and eventually her body. She did not choose to enter into prostitution, as many women today do not; they are forced into sexual slavery as a means to survive. They are treated as mere sex objects in this exploitative and demeaning industry. They become vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse, and are forced to ignore it out of fear and social stigmas. Fantine is but a fictional representation of countless women throughout the world today who must face the hardships of sex trafficking and rape culture. However, society has taught us that this is the norm and these women are to blame for their circumstances. Rape culture in today’s society has created a negative perception of sex trafficking victims leading to the oppression of women.
People do not think that sex trafficking is a current problem because it takes a different form in the United States than it does in most other countries. This type of modern-day slavery disguises itself through prostitution and pimping, which are both seen as normal, harmless institutions. The media tells us that women who participate in either activity live high-end lifestyles, that prostitution is a “glamorous and wealth-producing ‘job’ for girls” when in reality they lack emotional support, education, and employment opportunities (Shelley 241). Les Miserables sheds light on the true circumstances these women are in; Fan…
…through thinking critically about the message society sends about these subjects and not conforming to the norms that they set. Hopefully one day those who follow in the path of Fantine will receive the respect and justice they deserve.
Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. New York : Signet Classics, 1987. Print.
Navarro, Mireya and Janon Fisher. “Long Silent, Oldest Profession Gets Vocal and Organized.” Women’s Rights. Ed. Jennifer Curry. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 2005. 95-98. Print.
“Rape Culture.” Marshall University. Marshall University, n.d. Web. 27 February 2014.
Shelley, Louise. Human Trafficking. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. “The Link Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking.” Women’s Rights. Ed. Jennifery Curry. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 2005. 99-101. Print.