Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, an Old-time Patriarchal Oppressor: I Wonder—Did He Engage in Torturing and Trafficking?

By Jeanne Sarson | Nov 24, 2013


Halloween is over. For women triggered by Halloween they may now be breathing a sigh of relief. Non-State torturers use Halloween, or any holiday, as opportunistic times to distort myths and or use holiday-based costumes as a cover to hide their sadistic torture pleasures, especially sexualized tortures. So, I start the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women which begins today, November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the day of “Orangeurworld”, the day the United Nations Secretary-General proclaimed the 25th of every month as “Orange Day” to UNiTE to End Violence against Women: with an orange pumpkin travelogue as a way to re-claim orange as a freedom color.

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater is an old rhyme found in Mother Goose children’s story books, such as in a 1947 one.[1] I adapt this rhyme making it the starting point for a travelogue into understanding patriarchal gendered oppression, violence, and captivity, into exposing sexualized torture, human trafficking, and organized crime perpetrated by non-State actors such as Peter. I write to show that it is not a woman’s or a girl’s fault she is tortured and trafficked, rather, it is the fault of a society that has supported her violent oppressors even in rhymes that are decades old—I reclaim orange and the orange pumpkin as the freedom colour!

Elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls will only be achieved when all forms of gendered violence are insightfully named and acknowledged so I decided to wonder: Did Peter also engage in torture, human trafficking, and organized crime? I will explore the inter-relatedness of how this might have happened using Peter, his captive wife, and the pumpkin shell. The rhyme goes like this:         

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

The relational theme of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater tells of male domination and power and control over ‘his’ wife as a captive. This is an ancient patriarchal misogynistic theme that has not yet been globally extinguished. It is a relational theme that has and continues to foster global beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of male ownership endowed with the right to regulate female activity. It is a theme that has socially, culturally, and relationally constructed or designed destructive gender roles of male superiority and female inferiority that commodifies women. This being the case, I move to suppose that Peter becomes greedy desiring to make money. He decides, since he has his wife captive in his pumpkin shell, to force her into prostitution. Or, maybe she would say, “He started renting me out.” Peter has intentionally stepped into one of the most profitable worldwide illegal activities, that of sexualized human trafficking. Human trafficking can briefly be defined as the harbouring, transportation, and control of a person by another, using threats, force, and abuse of power to make money or gain other benefits.[2] Peter’s rhyme ‘sings’ of power and control and of harbouring captivity.

As Peter’s financial greed escalates he starts networking looking for like-minded others. He connects with two other men in a different country. He moves his wife—his property—by car to the pumpkin shells—enslavement cells—under the control of these two men. This is the transportation element of human trafficking. To transport her, Peter drugs her so she will be silent. Peter has learned that forced drugging, chemical cocktails given by mouth or injection, forces her into a state of powerlessness and therefore compliance. Peter and the two men have become confidently organized, deepening their entry into the recognized world of criminalized gangerism by expanding their pumpkin enslavement cells across State borders. Gangerism is internationally defined as a structured group of three or more persons, committing serious crimes that traverse different States for the purpose of gaining some benefit.[3] The activities of Peter and his cohorts meet this definition.

Greedily foreseeing financial gains by commodifying his wife Peter ‘works’ to meet the high demand for sexualized violence; Peter and his cohorts begin transporting and trafficking his wife from pumpkin shell to pumpkin shell—from enslavement cell to enslavement cell. Peter’s wife is now so objectified and dehumanized she is hatefully told she is “a nothing” or a “piece of meat”.

Men pay to rent her body for the pleasure of sexualized torturing. She endures being cut, burned, having her nipples twisted with pliers, being electric shocked, hung by her wrists until her shoulders dislocate, and beaten with whips and twisted coat hangers. Handcuffed to an iron radiator for endless hours—naked and cold—or tied spread-eagled to bed posts and gang raped, gun and knife raped, and raped with objects such as a hot poker, she manages to survive. Impregnated she is forcedly aborted by being severely beaten; she thinks she is about to die as she is horrified when she bears witness to her own terror of fearing she will bleed-to-death. Overwhelmed by the horrification, her body spontaneously takes over. Determined to help her survive, her body goes into survival mode. Two autonomic survival responses happen. She dissociates or goes out of her body and eventually sinks into unconsciousness. But this does not stop the non-State torturers. They continue to rape her unconscious body. Why? Because one ultimate domination pleasure of non-State torturers is pseudo-necrophilic raping—raping her limp body when she is unconscious and/or in a state of frozen dissociative powerlessness.

The perpetrator-client torturers are predominately men who come from all walks of life who pay to satisfy their sadistic torture pleasures. These acts of non-State torture are separate from the transportation and captivity embedded in the definition of human trafficking. These acts of sexualized brutal torturing fit the defining elements of torture outlined in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).[4]  Elements that include the intentional and purposeful infliction of severe physical and mental pain and suffering based on misogynistic discrimination against women or girls simply because they are women and girls and perceived to be commodities owned and controlled by men like Peter and his cohorts.

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater misogyny still exists. Nation States generally take no action to protect women and girls from non-State torture victimization even when aware that such a specific criminal human right violation is occurring. In today’s time, nation States such as Canada, Australia, and the U.K. willfully ignore writing non-State torture laws into their criminal codes; therefore, the torturing of women and girls such as Peter’s wife suffered will remain socio-culturally and criminally invisibilized—no law, no crime, no reality data. In today’s time, if Peter’s wife escaped Peter’s pumpkin enslavement cell the non-State torture she suffered will be invalidated because without national law there is no justice that distinctly affords her the legal right to name that she suffered non-State torture victimization.   

Sixty-six years have passed since this Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater rhyme was written in the Mother Goose book; non-State torturers like Peter and his cohorts continue to roam free, never held accountable for the non-State torture they inflict. It is also past due that all who pay to levy their destructive sexualized torturing against a woman’s or a girl’s body and her mind-spirit are held legally accountable. The torture they inflict as client-perpetrators is a violent gender-based crime.  

I end by recognizing that even in 1947 the woman Peter held captive had personhood and a name—maybe Jane. A year later in 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights told her she had “fundamental human rights”, “inherent dignity”, “worth” and equality with men.[5] Article 5 told Jane she had the human right not to be subjected to torture. But, how was this possible when her human right never to be tortured was not legally acknowledged and codified? How is it possible today when many nations do not make non-State torture a distinct criminal offence? How will Jane and others so tortured ever believe that it will be safer when exiting the captivity of the pumpkin shells when impunity for non-State torturers remains the socio-cultural global norm?

Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence begins November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on December 10 International Human Rights Day. For 66 years many Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eaters have roamed free—it’s time they were stopped. There was no non-State torture law in 1947—there needs to be one now—globally. In every country on this globe women and girls of all ages must be accompanied by good men and boys to envision a future freed from gendered sexualized non-State torture and human trafficking and be liberated to celebrate human right equality and wear orange as a true statement of freedom!  


  1. Mother Goose. Racine, WIS: Whitman, 1947.
  2. UN General Assembly. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 2000.
  3. UN General Assembly. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 2000.
  4. UN General Assembly. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 1984.
  5. UN. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948.

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