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The Anarchist Bookfair is next Saturday 6 April, and I am looking forward to talking specifically about ideas related to sex work as a job or occupation or livelihood or profession - without giving centre-stage to feminist arguments, or any other -isms for that matter. That does not mean I think feminisms are irrelevant, but the focus on them has impeded dealing with labour policy on commercial sex for donkey’s years. All my ideas are infused with concepts of social justice whether they come from anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anarchist, socialist or feminist traditions. I’ve been a second-wave and third-wave feminist in my own way and plan to belong to future waves, as well – but consider arguing about which specific ideas are ideologically correct a waste of my time.

At University College Dublin on the 4th I’ll talk about Sex at the Margins, the full monty.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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In Are Evangelicals Monopolizing, Misleading US Anti-Trafficking Efforts? Yvonne Zimmerman, author of Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking, is asked if US anti-trafficking crusades could be called colonialist. She replies, ‘It’s an argument waiting to be made’. Since I’ve been making it for ten years, I had to write to her. It’s certainly true that the critique of colonialism is not often heard, despite the term Rescue Industry‘s spread.

Evangelical bloggers did not like hearing the word. John Mark Reynolds reacted scathingly in Surprise! Evangelical Efforts Against Sex-Trafficking are ‘Colonialist’! followed by Derek Rishmawy in Sex-Trafficking, Evangelical ‘Colonialism’ and the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. He gets prize for the most ignorant sarcastic crack: If that’s ‘colonialism’, then it’s the holy colonialism of God at work through his people. Welcome to the White Man’s Burden, shamelessly justified all over again, where the idea of colonialism is treated like a joke – or ‘joke’.

To make things worse, Reynolds used a flagrantly racist image to bias his own piece, showing a dark-skinned and/or dirty man handling an innocent white child. The shot is one of several someone created for campaigning purposes – whether they understood the inherent racism I don’t know.

I asked Yvonne to tell me what Other Dreams of Freedom is about and why she wrote it.

It is very popular for American Christians to be involved in anti-trafficking activism. Although some American Christians are interested in a broad understanding of trafficking that includes exploitative labor, usually they mean sex trafficking. And usually by sex trafficking they mean commercial sex – any exchange of sex or sexual services for money. They think that if people no longer sell sexual services they will be free from trafficking, so they favor programs that ‘fight trafficking’ by trying to get people to leave the sex industry. Means to this end vary from educational scholarships to job-training programs to brothel raids. In terms of law and policy, many American Christians support the abolitionist agenda to criminalize all sex-money exchanges.

I am a scholar of religious studies and ethics. I wrote Other Dreams of Freedom to examine why this anti-trafficking perspective feels so appealing and ‘right’ to many American Christians. When I was doing the research between 2005 and 2008, George W. Bush was president and his administration was constructing an international anti-trafficking agenda, often referring to God, God’s intent for human life and Good and Evil. I focused on anti-trafficking legislation (TVPA), the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, public policy statements and press releases. These were not trying to be religious, but I saw how they expressed a very particular religious and moral sensibility.

But Other Dreams of Freedom is about more than Bush. The understanding of human trafficking that his administration endorsed is wildly popular in the US; Americans who identify with a wide variety of other religious traditions defend this view. My book shows how Christian theology rooted in Reformed Protestantism infuses and shapes much American culture and moral sensibility, including the connections between sex, freedom and morality. My analysis of the theological sources clarifies why Americans are so quick to see commercial sex to be inherently degrading and immoral. The book discusses the unintended consequences of using a single religious perspective to build foreign policy in a multi-religious world.

Morgan Guyton at Mercy not Sacrifice also wrote about the original interview, and Yvonne left a comment that mentioned me, so I left something, too. Guyton replied:

What I have carried with me from my first job at a little NGO in DC called the Nicaragua Network is that any kind of real support we offer to people in disadvantaged situations anywhere must always have its terms dictated to us by the people we’re supposedly helping. We called it the solidarity model. In Christianese, I would call it ‘servanthood’ rather than ‘service’. It’ s great that young evangelicals are interested in social justice, but it seems like the way it’s often packaged makes it more like a form of tourism than anything else. I’m interested in reading more.

Yvonne Zimmerman is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

Note that Christian Evangelism exists outside the US and behaves similarly when it comes to trafficking: here is a recent note about CARE in the UK.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Alas. Ordinarily I would quickly click away or delete nonsense-news like this of a ‘consultation’ on prostitution law run by politicians. But since I am assured that its results will indeed be taken seriously by mainstream government, I have to suggest people especially in the UK and especially those who can claim to be a ‘group’ do respond. So-called consultations are going on left and right in the this area of the world, in both Irelands and Scotland, so this adds England and Wales. They are all started by people who want to bring in criminalisation of clients, and in such a conflict-ridden field it’s better to claim to be non-partisan.

You may look at the official registry page for this group called the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG for short); their names unsurprisingly include Fiona Mactaggart. The group have launched an online Call for Evidence, a misnomer as they are just asking for opinions and feelings – no evidence at all. The stated goal of the group is

To raise awareness of the impact of the sale of sexual services on those involved and to develop proposals for government action to tackle individuals who create demand for sexual services as well as those who control prostitutes; to protect prostituted women by helping them to exit prostitution and to prevent girls from entering prostitution.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade is launching an inquiry to assess the current UK legal settlement surrounding prostitution, and to identify how legislation to tackle demand could safeguard those in danger of sexual exploitation and abuse.

I hardly need point out that this is not the way to make a serious inquiry or hold a consultation.

The online questionnaire is not long. Skip if you want to from the introductory palaver to where the questions begin. You may answer anonymously. You may answer as an individual. You may be anywhere in the world.

The deadline for response is Monday 4 February at 16:00. No responses considered after that.

Please note that despite sounding like a government group, this whole project is financed by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education): a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives, according to themselves.

Note that the addition of Global Sex Trade in their name indicates an anti-trafficking agenda. They don’t address it in this questionnaire, but the door is obviously open.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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For everyone now suffering from Mr Smarm’s documentary – which I’ve only heard about – here’s The Soft Side of Imperialism again. When being irritated or outraged in a way that feels visceral and personal it is useful to be reminded of the structural issues propping up liberalism, and Kristof is an egregious example of apologist for US imperialism.

Numerous people have written to express particular outrage that Kristof’s Facebook game should be like FarmVille, with women taking the place of farm animals, to be looked after. Others wrote to say the word smarmy was just right to describe him. Rescue Industry magnate supreme, fond of bragging about his multiple Pulitzer Prizes – which are circulated amongst members of the same old white-boys’ club eternally – this unattractive man is also a mediocre writer. Is the movie version any good?

Kristof and the Rescue Industry:
The Soft Side of Imperialism

by LAURA AGUSTÍN, 25 January 2012, Counterpunch

Reasons abound to be turned off by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He is too pleased with himself and demonstrates no capacity for self-reflection. He is too earnest. He claims to be in the vanguard of journalism because he tweets. He is said to be Doing Something about human suffering while the rest of us don’t care; he is smarmy. He doesn’t write particularly well. But most important, he is an apologist for a soft form of imperialism.

He poses for photos with the wretched of the earth and Hollywood celebrities in the same breath, and they are a perfect fit. Here he is squatting and grinning at black children, or trying to balance a basket on his head, and there he is with his arm over Mia Farrow’s shoulder in the desert. Here he is beaming down at obedient-looking Cambodian girls, or smiling broadly beside a dour, unclothed black man with a spear, whilst there he is with Ashton and Demi, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney. He professes humility, but his approach to journalistic advocacy makes himself a celebrity. He is the news story: Kristof is visiting, Kristof is doing something.

In interviews, he refers to the need to protect his humanitarian image, and he got one Pulitzer Prize because he “gave voice to the voiceless”. Can there be a more presumptuous claim? Educated at both Harvard and Oxford, he nevertheless appears ignorant of critiques of Empire and grassroots women’s movements alike. Instead, Kristof purports to speak for girls and women and then shows us how grateful they are. His Wikipedia entry reads like hagiography.

Keen to imply that he’s down with youth and hep to the jive, he lamely told one interviewer that “All of us in the news business are wondering what the future is going to be.” He is now venturing into the world of online games, the ones with a so-called moral conscience, like Darfur is Dying, in which players are invited to “Help stop the crisis in Darfur” by identifying with refugee characters and seeing how difficult their lives are. This experience, it is presumed, will teach players about suffering, but it could just as well make refugees seem like small brown toys for people to play with and then close that tab when they get bored. Moral conscience is a flexible term anyway: One click away from Darfur is Dying is a game aimed at helping the Pentagon improve their weapons.

Kristof says his game will be a Facebook app like FarmVille: “You’ll have a village, and in order to nurture this village, you’ll have to look after the women and girls in the village.” The paternalism couldn’t be clearer, and to show it’s all not just a game (because there’s actual money involved), schools and refugee camps get funds if you play well. A nice philanthropic touch.

Welcome to the Rescue Industry, where characters like Kristof get a free pass to act out fun imperialist interventions masked as humanitarianism. No longer claiming openly to carry the White Man’s Burden, rescuers nonetheless embrace the spectacle of themselves rushing in to save miserable victims, whether from famine, flood or the wrong kind of sex. Hollywood westerns lived off the image of white Europeans as civilizing force for decades, depicting the slaughter of redskins in the name of freedom. Their own freedom, that is, in the foundational American myth that settlers were courageous, ingenious, hard-working white men who risked everything and fought a revolution in the name of religious and political liberty.

Odd then, that so many Americans are blind when it comes to what they call humanitarianism, blissfully conscience-free about interfering in other countries’ affairs in order to impose their own way of life and moral standards. The Rescue Industry that has grown up in the past decade around US policy on human trafficking shows how imperialism can work in softer, more palatable ways than military intervention. Relying on a belief in social evolution, development and modernization as objective truths, contemporary rescuers, like John Stuart Mill 150 years ago, consider themselves free, self-governing individuals born in the most civilized lands and therefore entitled to rule people in more backward ones. (Mill required benevolence, but imperialists always claim to have the interests of the conquered at heart.) Here begins colonialism, the day-to-day imposition of value systems from outside, the permanent maintenance of the upper hand. Here is where the Rescue Industry finds its niche; here is where Kristof ingenuously refers to “changing culture”, smugly certain that his own is superior.

In the formation of the 21st-century anti-trafficking movement, a morally convenient exception is made, as it was made for military actions in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. The exception says This Time It’s Different. This time we have to go in. We have to step up and take the lead, show what real democracy is. In the name of freedom, of course. In the case of trafficking the exception says: We have achieved Equality. We abolished slavery, we had a civil-rights movement and a women’s liberation movement too and now everything is fine here.

With justification firmly in place, the US Rescue Industry imposes itself on the rest of the world through policies against prostitution, on the one hand, and against trafficking, on the other. In their book Half the Sky, Kristof and co-author Sheryl WuDunn liken the emancipation of women to the abolition of slavery, but his own actions –brothel raids, a game teaching players to protect village women – reflect only paternalism.

It may be easier to get away with this approach now than it was when W.T. Stead of London’s Pall Mall Gazette bought a young girl in 1885 to prove the existence of child prostitution. This event set off a panic that evil traders were systematically snatching young girls and carrying them to the continent – a fear that was disproved, although Stead was prosecuted and imprisoned for abduction.

In contrast, in 2004 when Kristof bought two young Cambodians out of a brothel, he took his cameraman to catch one girl’s weepy homecoming. A year later, revisiting the brothel and finding her back, Kristof again filmed a heartwarming reunion, this time between him and the girl. Presuming that being bought out by him was the best chance she could ever get, Kristof now reverted to a journalistic tone, citing hiv-infection rates and this girl’s probable death within a decade. She was not hiv-positive, but he felt fine about stigmatizing her anyway.

Then last November, Kristof live-tweeted a brothel raid in the company of ex-slave Somaly Mam. In “One Brothel Raid at a Time” he describes the excitement:

Riding beside Somaly in her car toward a brothel bristling with AK-47 assault rifles, it was scary. This town of Anlong Veng is in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, with a large military presence; it feels like something out of the Wild West. (New York Times)

There’s the cavalry moment again. A few days later Kristof boasted that six more brothels had closed as a result of the tweeted raid. Focused on out-of-work pimps, he failed to ask the most fundamental question: Where did the women inside those brothels go? The closures made them instantly vulnerable to trafficking, the very scenario Kristof would save them from.

Some Rescuers evoke the Christian mission directly, like Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission, which accompanies police in raids on brothels. Or like Luis CdeBaca, the US Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking, who unselfconsciously aligns himself with William Wilberforce, the evangelical Christian rescuers claim ended slavery – as though slaves and freed and escaped slaves had nothing to do with it. CdeBaca talks about the contemporary mission to save slaves as a responsibility uniquely belonging to Britain and the US.

Kristof positions himself as liberal Everyman, middle-class husband and father, rational journalist, transparent advocate for the underdog. But he likes what he calls the law-enforcement model to end slavery, showing no curiosity about police behavior toward victims during frightening raids. Ignoring reports of the negative effects these operations have on women, and the 19th-century model of moral regeneration forced on them after being rescued, he concentrates on a single well-funded program for his photo-opps, the one showing obedient-looking girls.

Kristof also fails to criticize US blackmail tactics. Issuing an annual report card to the world, the US Office on Trafficking presumes to judge, on evidence produced during investigations whose methodology has never been explained, each country according to its efforts to combat human trafficking. Reprisals follow – loss of aid – for countries not toeing the line. Kristof is an apologist for this manipulative policy.

To criticize the Rescue Industry is not to say that slavery, undocumented migration, human smuggling, trafficking and labor exploitation do not exist or involve egregious injustices. Yet Kristof supporters object to any critique with At least he is Doing Something. What are you doing to stop child rape? and so on. This sort of attempt to deflect all criticism is a hallmark of colonialism, which invokes class and race as reasons for clubbing together against savagery and terrorism. The Rescue Industry, like the war on terrorism, relies on an image of the barbaric Other.

It is important not to take at face value claims to be Helping, Saving or Rescuing just because people say that is what they are doing and feel emotional about it. Like many unreflective father figures, Kristof sees himself as fully benevolent. Claiming to give voice to the voiceless, he does not actually let them speak.

Instead, as we say nowadays, it’s all about Kristof: his experience, terror, angst, confusion, desire. Did anyone rescued in his recent brothel raid want to be saved like that, with the consequences that came afterwards, whatever they were? That is what we do not know and will not find out from Kristof.

Discussing Heart of Darkness, Chinua Achebe said Conrad used Africa

as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril… The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. (Things Fall Apart)

The latest sahib in colonialism’s dismal parade, Kristof is the Rescue Industry at its well-intentioned worst.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Pictures like this can cause ranting about Sex Tourism solely because an older white man is seen walking with a younger less-white woman. Their physical characteristics are presumed to determine fixed identities, by which I mean we are supposed to know who they are, fundamentally, simply because of how they look. I have always been very uncomfortable with such blanket categorisation, which reminds me of systems of racial segregation. Or if race is not the crux then age would seem to be, since according to today’s romantic narratives, proper relationships only occur between people of the same age. Anti-sex tourism campaigners who claim only to be concerned about the tourists’ financial power fail to account for the special repulsion they exhibit at age and ethnic/racial differences in these couples, a prejudice that blocks any curiosity about the people involved as people.

Soi Cowboy Photo by Matt Greenfield

Some of the men under scrutiny are tourists, while others call themselves ex-pats, but they all stand accused of having travelled for the purpose of using their money to buy sexual relationships. I bring this fraught topic up because a number of Christian Rescue Industry groups have identified places of sex tourism as a target of their mission, hoping to rescue women who sell sex and stop men who buy it: a species of End Demand project. The testimony below comes from The World Race: This unique mission trip is a challenging adventure for young adults to abandon worldly possessions and a traditional lifestyle in exchange for an understanding that it’s not about you; it’s about the Kingdom. The following are excerpts from a single participant’s description of one experience.

Bill and his 300 women, Laura Meyers, 28 December 2010

. . . One of the most dreadful days of my life was in Pattaya, Thailand. . . I was there on the human trafficking exploratory trip and Michelle and I had spent the day interviewing men and families on why they were in Pattaya. . . Bill was sitting around the table with some other western men. . . Bill was originally from Canada but had moved to Thailand a few years back. . . for “SEX” . . . he had BOUGHT OVER 300 women! Although somewhere in my gut I knew that response was coming, I sat shocked and horrified. . . He had no shame or inkling that what he was doing was wrong. It had never crossed his mind that the women and children that he was buying for sex were being held captive. It had never crossed his mind that . . these girls were . . . being forced to perform for him by their “owner”.

After this beginning, familiar from other Rescue narratives, there is a change.

The more I talked with Bill I heard his heart. . . He told me story after story of how he continually felt rejected . . . from his family, rejected from his friends, rejected from his old way of life, so he came to the one place where “love” is “guaranteed.” The truth was, Bill was not being satisfied and after years of chasing love and looking in all the wrong places he was becoming restless. Bill was hurting. Bill was alone. Bill was searching. . . . that dreadful night in Pattaya, Thailand, although it was brief, I was able just to shed some light on Bill’s life and tell him that there was more to the life that he was living. I was able to share HOPE and extend GRACE. If for no other reason, I may have been in Pattaya, Thailand, the nastiest place I have ever been, for Bill. It’s easy for me to walk into situations like the one with Bill and my heart immediately goes into conviction mode. Where all I see is this sin in Bill’s life, where I see where he is hurting people over and over again and the righteous justice rises within me and I get angry. But more often than not these days, my heart rises for justice for Bill; he is hurting. Obviously, I want the exploitation and abuse to end for the women and children, that’s my heart. But my deepest desire is for Bill’s life to be restored so he can be the end to the exploitation of women and children. If we can get to his heart than there would be no need to have prevention plans and recovery centers for women and children. If we could get to his heart there would be no Red Light District in Pattaya, Thailand.

The idea that commercial sex could disappear through ending demand for it is terribly naive, especially where it is economically and socially significant, as in Pattaya, as I discussed in a review of Sex Trafficking by Siddharth Kara. This Christian narrative of salvation and reform does improve on the usual secular and purely punitive proposal to put all men who buy sex in prison or on sex-offender lists. Otherwise, these missions of naive young Americans to other countries to interfere on religious grounds is just more colonialism, related to Reality Tourism - excuses to travel the world convinced that one’s own culture is best, that one knows how everyone else should live, that one has the right to barge in, judge and then feel good about it.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale: That is how one man has described men who want to save sex slaves, seeking to differentiate themselves from less civilised, bad men – the ones that buy sex. In this idea, being a Good Man is achieved not by concern for world peace, equal opportunity, racism, the end of poverty or war but rather by concern for sex slaves.

Recently I published a sober academic review of a book that is not academic at all, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Afterwards, I republished the review in Counterpunch, with a snappy introduction for the occasion:

FEBRUARY 27, 2012

Not Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
Sex Trafficking

by LAURA AGUSTÍN

It is good luck for Good Men that sex slavery has been identified as a terrible new phenomenon requiring extraordinary actions. In the chivalric tradition, to rescue a damsel in distress ranked high as a way knights errant could prove themselves, along with slaying dragons and giants. Nowadays, Nicholas Kristof is only one of a growing number of men seeking attention and praise through the rescue of a new kind of distressed damsel – poorer women called sex slaves. In this noble quest, women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options are not consulted but must be saved, and human rights are the new grail. The association with Christianity is not casual. Siddharth Kara, another man seeking saintliness, uses lite economics – another trendy way to get noticed these days.

The original review follows. The publisher of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn, has forwarded me a letter from the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation objecting to the piece, calling me a journalist, which I am not. He also doesn’t seem to have read past that introductory paragraph to the review of the book, where he might have found real issues to think about.

In Laura Agustin’s cynical worldview, men who hold the opinion that prostituting women is wrong and endeavor to do something about it are, in fact, misguided crusaders in the tradition of Don Quixote lost in chivalric fantasy on a mortal quest to feed their own egos by saving damsels in distress. In her article, Not Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Sex Trafficking, Agustin specifically targets two men amongst what she portrays as a growing parade of attention-seeking phony heroes (cue the paparazzi) – Nicholas Kristof and Siddharth Kara.

Unsettling as it is for Agustin to accept the presence of men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale, Kristof and Kara are helping to shed light on a culture of gender exploitation that has survived only because of spin and lies. Where the rest of us see two men of intelligence and compassion, Agustin sees ulterior motive. In my experience, ones own ill intent makes one suspicious of ill intent in others. What is Agustin’s motive in attacking those working hard to end the exploitation of women? More spin and lies I suspect.

Robert J. Benz
Founder & Executive Vice President
Frederick Douglass Family Foundation

A culture of gender exploitation has only survived because of spin and lies? What? No interest in poverty or cultures of gender inequality from this crusader! Cynicism is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Note that Benz clearly places his kind of man on the high end of evolution, in that overtly colonialistic move in which white men save brown women from brown men. I don’t even understand the last sentence: how can a motive be spin? The guy should have looked me up first and come up with a better attack. And got a copyeditor.

But there is something else interesting here: the notion that Kara has been insulted by being placed in the chivalric tradition, which is generally assumed to represent something noble. Benz’s reference to Don Quixote shows he probably never studied chivalry himself. On the contrary, I imagine both Kara and Kristof would be chuffed to be associated with it. To critique knights in shining armour, as I do, you need to be not only interested in solving social problems but also interested in ending patriarchy, and knighthood is an elitist, male, hierarchical tradition in which white European men proved themselves to other men through treating women as objects, and women were supposed to be grateful, because they couldn’t possibly have gotten themselves out of their predicament unassisted, or figured out how to deal with life themselves in the first place. Note also my reference to human rights as the new grail.

In the contemporary example, men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damsels – acts more than legitimate to criticise.

If you got this far and you tweet or post anywhere else, I’d appreciate this getting around. Maybe even Benz will see it!

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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During a prolonged stay in New York recently I realised that Nicholas Kristof looms very large to many people, while to me he is only one of many annoying members of the Rescue Industry, albeit an egregious one. In the article I published last week about imperialism for Counterpunch Kristof was the obvious choice for main punching bag. The piece was picked up by the NYTimes eXaminer as an Op-Ed, where they added a funny photo.

Numerous people have written to express particular outrage that Kristof’s Facebook game should be like FarmVille, with women taking the place of farm animals, to be looked after. Others wrote to say the word smarmy was just right to describe him. It turns out he’s not such an unquestioned celebrity Rescuer after all.

Kristof and the Rescue Industry:
The Soft Side of Imperialism

by LAURA AGUSTÍN, 25 January 2012, Counterpunch

Reasons abound to be turned off by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He is too pleased with himself and demonstrates no capacity for self-reflection. He is too earnest. He claims to be in the vanguard of journalism because he tweets. He is said to be Doing Something about human suffering while the rest of us don’t care; he is smarmy. He doesn’t write particularly well. But most important, he is an apologist for a soft form of imperialism.

He poses for photos with the wretched of the earth and Hollywood celebrities in the same breath, and they are a perfect fit. Here he is squatting and grinning at black children, or trying to balance a basket on his head, and there he is with his arm over Mia Farrow’s shoulder in the desert. Here he is beaming down at obedient-looking Cambodian girls, or smiling broadly beside a dour, unclothed black man with a spear, whilst there he is with Ashton and Demi, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney. He professes humility, but his approach to journalistic advocacy makes himself a celebrity. He is the news story: Kristof is visiting, Kristof is doing something.

In interviews, he refers to the need to protect his humanitarian image, and he got one Pulitzer Prize because he “gave voice to the voiceless”. Can there be a more presumptuous claim? Educated at both Harvard and Oxford, he nevertheless appears ignorant of critiques of Empire and grassroots women’s movements alike. Instead, Kristof purports to speak for girls and women and then shows us how grateful they are. His Wikipedia entry reads like hagiography.

Keen to imply that he’s down with youth and hep to the jive, he lamely told one interviewer that “All of us in the news business are wondering what the future is going to be.” He is now venturing into the world of online games, the ones with a so-called moral conscience, like Darfur is Dying, in which players are invited to “Help stop the crisis in Darfur” by identifying with refugee characters and seeing how difficult their lives are. This experience, it is presumed, will teach players about suffering, but it could just as well make refugees seem like small brown toys for people to play with and then close that tab when they get bored. Moral conscience is a flexible term anyway: One click away from Darfur is Dying is a game aimed at helping the Pentagon improve their weapons.

Kristof says his game will be a Facebook app like FarmVille: “You’ll have a village, and in order to nurture this village, you’ll have to look after the women and girls in the village.” The paternalism couldn’t be clearer, and to show it’s all not just a game (because there’s actual money involved), schools and refugee camps get funds if you play well. A nice philanthropic touch.

Welcome to the Rescue Industry, where characters like Kristof get a free pass to act out fun imperialist interventions masked as humanitarianism. No longer claiming openly to carry the White Man’s Burden, rescuers nonetheless embrace the spectacle of themselves rushing in to save miserable victims, whether from famine, flood or the wrong kind of sex. Hollywood westerns lived off the image of white Europeans as civilizing force for decades, depicting the slaughter of redskins in the name of freedom. Their own freedom, that is, in the foundational American myth that settlers were courageous, ingenious, hard-working white men who risked everything and fought a revolution in the name of religious and political liberty.

Odd then, that so many Americans are blind when it comes to what they call humanitarianism, blissfully conscience-free about interfering in other countries’ affairs in order to impose their own way of life and moral standards. The Rescue Industry that has grown up in the past decade around US policy on human trafficking shows how imperialism can work in softer, more palatable ways than military intervention. Relying on a belief in social evolution, development and modernization as objective truths, contemporary rescuers, like John Stuart Mill 150 years ago, consider themselves free, self-governing individuals born in the most civilized lands and therefore entitled to rule people in more backward ones. (Mill required benevolence, but imperialists always claim to have the interests of the conquered at heart.) Here begins colonialism, the day-to-day imposition of value systems from outside, the permanent maintenance of the upper hand. Here is where the Rescue Industry finds its niche; here is where Kristof ingenuously refers to “changing culture”, smugly certain that his own is superior.

In the formation of the 21st-century anti-trafficking movement, a morally convenient exception is made, as it was made for military actions in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. The exception says This Time It’s Different. This time we have to go in. We have to step up and take the lead, show what real democracy is. In the name of freedom, of course. In the case of trafficking the exception says: We have achieved Equality. We abolished slavery, we had a civil-rights movement and a women’s liberation movement too and now everything is fine here.

With justification firmly in place, the US Rescue Industry imposes itself on the rest of the world through policies against prostitution, on the one hand, and against trafficking, on the other. In their book Half the Sky, Kristof and co-author Sheryl WuDunn liken the emancipation of women to the abolition of slavery, but his own actions –brothel raids, a game teaching players to protect village women – reflect only paternalism.

It may be easier to get away with this approach now than it was when W.T. Stead of London’s Pall Mall Gazette bought a young girl in 1885 to prove the existence of child prostitution. This event set off a panic that evil traders were systematically snatching young girls and carrying them to the continent – a fear that was disproved, although Stead was prosecuted and imprisoned for abduction.

In contrast, in 2004 when Kristof bought two young Cambodians out of a brothel, he took his cameraman to catch one girl’s weepy homecoming. A year later, revisiting the brothel and finding her back, Kristof again filmed a heartwarming reunion, this time between him and the girl. Presuming that being bought out by him was the best chance she could ever get, Kristof now reverted to a journalistic tone, citing hiv-infection rates and this girl’s probable death within a decade. She was not hiv-positive, but he felt fine about stigmatizing her anyway.

Then last November, Kristof live-tweeted a brothel raid in the company of ex-slave Somaly Mam. In “One Brothel Raid at a Time” he describes the excitement:

Riding beside Somaly in her car toward a brothel bristling with AK-47 assault rifles, it was scary. This town of Anlong Veng is in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, with a large military presence; it feels like something out of the Wild West. (New York Times)

There’s the cavalry moment again. A few days later Kristof boasted that six more brothels had closed as a result of the tweeted raid. Focused on out-of-work pimps, he failed to ask the most fundamental question: Where did the women inside those brothels go? The closures made them instantly vulnerable to trafficking, the very scenario Kristof would save them from.

Some Rescuers evoke the Christian mission directly, like Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission, which accompanies police in raids on brothels. Or like Luis CdeBaca, the US Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking, who unselfconsciously aligns himself with William Wilberforce, the evangelical Christian rescuers claim ended slavery – as though slaves and freed and escaped slaves had nothing to do with it. CdeBaca talks about the contemporary mission to save slaves as a responsibility uniquely belonging to Britain and the US.

Kristof positions himself as liberal Everyman, middle-class husband and father, rational journalist, transparent advocate for the underdog. But he likes what he calls the law-enforcement model to end slavery, showing no curiosity about police behavior toward victims during frightening raids. Ignoring reports of the negative effects these operations have on women, and the 19th-century model of moral regeneration forced on them after being rescued, he concentrates on a single well-funded program for his photo-opps, the one showing obedient-looking girls.

Kristof also fails to criticize US blackmail tactics. Issuing an annual report card to the world, the US Office on Trafficking presumes to judge, on evidence produced during investigations whose methodology has never been explained, each country according to its efforts to combat human trafficking. Reprisals follow – loss of aid – for countries not toeing the line. Kristof is an apologist for this manipulative policy.

To criticize the Rescue Industry is not to say that slavery, undocumented migration, human smuggling, trafficking and labor exploitation do not exist or involve egregious injustices. Yet Kristof supporters object to any critique with At least he is Doing Something. What are you doing to stop child rape? and so on. This sort of attempt to deflect all criticism is a hallmark of colonialism, which invokes class and race as reasons for clubbing together against savagery and terrorism. The Rescue Industry, like the war on terrorism, relies on an image of the barbaric Other.

It is important not to take at face value claims to be Helping, Saving or Rescuing just because people say that is what they are doing and feel emotional about it. Like many unreflective father figures, Kristof sees himself as fully benevolent. Claiming to give voice to the voiceless, he does not actually let them speak.

Instead, as we say nowadays, it’s all about Kristof: his experience, terror, angst, confusion, desire. Did anyone rescued in his recent brothel raid want to be saved like that, with the consequences that came afterwards, whatever they were? That is what we do not know and will not find out from Kristof.

Discussing Heart of Darkness, Chinua Achebe said Conrad used Africa

as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril… The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. (Things Fall Apart)

The latest sahib in colonialism’s dismal parade, Kristof is the Rescue Industry at its well-intentioned worst.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Luis CdeBaca is a US government employee with the misleading title Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking. I am told this means he reports directly to the President, so he is largely free to do what he likes. At an event I attended in Washington DC last year, he said people ask why he doesn’t address the root causes of trafficking in his work and gave his answer: My budget is only $25 million, so obviously I can’t address root causes. Only $25 million, well that explains it. He went on to say he therefore would continue to concentrate on raids and rescues.

He spoke stirringly of the UK-US alliance to end this scourge and leaned heavily on a supposed connection to William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian Englishman who neocolonialists claim to be responsible for the end of slavery. In this account no mention is made of the original conquests that set up new and reinforced existing slave economies or of native resistance movements and revolutions: No, one White Man did it practically singlehandedly, and by the way he was also an enthusiast of the Society for Suppression of Vice (father of the Obscene Publications Act, by the way, amongst other repressive delights).

I was surprised CdeBaca was at the Washington event, because all the other speakers were critical of his sort of approach and rhetoric, which is why I accepted the invitation. Thus unprepared, I became very wound up when he cited the US Constitution as justification for interference around the globe, so much so that I scrapped what I had intended to say to the large audience of government and ngo employees and instead, when it was my turn, lambasted the ambassador’s speech. I slipped once and said fucking as an adjective because, I can’t help it, imperialism is the subject that most boils my blood. There were a couple of blanched faces amongst the organisers but also some cheers from the audience, and CdeBaca had left already, anyway. I didn’t know before I went that the Woodrow Wilson Center is supposed to be a hallowed hall, but I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have said it even if I had known. They describe my talk like this:

While Laura Agustín also critiqued U.S. policy toward human trafficking, her primary focus was on combating the assumption “that the U.S. and other sacred nations must take action” against human trafficking. Rather than assuming that trafficked persons need to be rescued, Agustín believes that we must interrogate the structure of ‘rescue’ efforts that can at times feel more like arrest, abuse and deportation. She also emphasized that migrants are not always passive victims, but rather are courageous, active agents, willing to risk the hazards of the informal economy in order to find work and pay in developed countries. She concluded that the current international discourse on protecting the rights of trafficked workers is misplaced and recommended that developed countries begin to legally recognize more jobs in the informal economy.

CdeBaca was in the audience at the BBC World Debate in Luxor, too, where he heard one of the panellists, Siddharth Kara, inflate so-called estimates of slavery into the 20-millions. That’s one of the places in that programme where I cut in and expressed disbelief, asking how exactly such a figure was reached and why the topic had shifted suddenly from trafficking to slavery. No problem for Kara, however, since the figure is reached by simply including vast categories of people, from child labourers in general to any woman selling sex and potentially to any worker in the informal economy. These are slaves, now, remember, not just trafficked people.

At a recent event at the Vatican, of all places, CdeBaca estimated between 12.5 and 27 million people are trapped in slavery around the world, ranging from children forced to work as domestic servants or in sweatshops to women coerced into prostitution. And here are statements all ascribed to him in Up to 27 million trapped in slavery worldwide (the incoherency might come from the reporter, there’s no way to tell.)

Countries where migrants arrive should try to identify potential victims and protect them, rather than opting for immediate repatriation which often sends them back into the hands of human traffickers. LA: Here he says people shouldn’t be deported (ghastly euphemism, repatriated) because they will run into traffickers again.

Tens of thousands of migrants are fleeing turmoil in North Africa, with many trying to reach Europe by boat, but the problem of slavery exists all over the world. . . Now he switches to saying slavery is everywhere, so presumably it’s on all the borders, too.

The European Union has urged African border authorities to bolster controls to prevent human smugglers taking advantage of the situation. But . . . it is more effective to fight slavery in the countries where the victims are exploited. Here he says it’s no good closing borders and implies they should be open, but I am not clear how this is connected to his claim that fighting slavery should happen in European countries. He seems to be saying it’s no use trying to do anything in the countries of origin, let all these folk get into Europe and then save them.

You don’t fight trafficking on the borders, because people don’t yet know they are trafficking victims, it’s only when they get to where they are going that they are enslaved. People should be keeping an eye on where these refugees end up, what kind of jobs they are being put into and how they are being treated. Again he’s against hardened border controls, but his statement that victims don’t know they are victims till they get inside is a silly and demeaning generalisation, since, if something has gone wrong lots of migrants know so at an early stage. He also calls enslaved migrants refugees, showing ignorance of what the term means in migration policy.

These statements do not add up to a plan. CdeBaca clearly wants to criticise European border policy, but his solutions are incoherent. Maybe he did hear what I said in Luxor, however, about one solution lying in revising antiquated and arbitrary distinctions between informal and formal sectors of the economy, so that people being called slaves could have some labour rights and people being called trafficked might get work permits to do jobs in other countries.

People are always telling me that these moral entrepreneurs went to Harvard and such places, as though that means they must be right. Maybe they are intelligent and got nice degrees, but their understanding of migration, social processes and precarious labour is practically non-existent. Being in campaign mode seriously distorts analytic ability.

By the way, note that images of white imperialism work two ways; in the Tintin picture blacks are carrying a white, while in the other picture a white is carrying a black. In both pictures, the white is in charge.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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I realise that many people love Mary Magdalene, but the use by any contemporary project aimed at helping prostitutes of the name Magdalene evokes terrible associations. I see that a proect in Nashville, Tennessee, is doing just that, from an NPR story called Relapse And Recovery: A Tale Of Two Prostitutes. For those who have forgotten what Irish Magdalene laundries were (and the outrage that was felt when the truth came out about nuns enslaving fallen women), here are excerpts from an interesting story about Ireland called Red-light Alert, 10 April 2011, The Independent. Note the author calls these Rescue Industry folk the church’s lay stormtroopers in a religious war which, in this time and place, is not about evangelical Christians but Roman Catholics.

Bella Cohen’s brothel in Monto

Monto was, by all accounts, the biggest and busiest red-light district in the Europe of its era. . . In Ulysses, Joyce refers to the place as Nighttown. The young hero Stephen, his friend Lynch, and the middle-aged cuckold Leopold Bloom end up there after an evening’s boozing. Stephen and Lynch go for the fairly straightforward experience. But Bloom is there for the sexual humiliation via a dominatrix at a joint run by “Bello”. Bello was the real-life Bella Cohen, who actually did run an establishment that provided for the kinkier end of the trade in Monto. Around the corner in Montgomery Street was the top-end-of-the-market brothel run by Annie Mack, whose beautiful young women attracted rich clients including, it is rumoured, the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, who indeed was a frequent visitor to Dublin. At its height it is said that 1,600 women worked in Monto from the lowest and cheapest houses . . . to the most expensive . . .

. . . Its demise is well documented. That happened within only a few years of the foundation of the State and the accession to power of the Roman Catholic church. The church’s lay stormtroopers, the Legion of Mary, did the job, led by its inquisitor-in-chief, Frank Duff. War was declared on Monto. The new Catholic state stormed into action and a force of gardai and legionnaires raided Monto at midnight on March 12, 1925, and literally threw the women working there out on to the street and into the Church-run slave-labour laundries. Offended Catholic sensibilities were put right and the women were cast out.

The saddest street in Ireland was, and, to this day, remains Railway Street, off which Bella Cohen once ran her S&M joint, and where the rear walls of the Magdalene Laundry remain, a crucifix still standing over its jail-like entrance. That’s the place for them hussies, the paedo priests must have thought to themselves. The laundry was the last of the Magdalenes to close, in 1996. Up to the Seventies, young ‘fallen’ women were still being imprisoned in this hell-hole. It had official recognition from the Government as a remand prison. The girls — “penitents” — were given assumed religious names just like the nuns and enslaved, often never to see freedom. There are places like that today in the world, in Iran. Many of the Irish girls who went into this or the other laundries never came out. Some 133 unmarked graves were found in another Magdalene in Drumcondra a few years ago.

No one would ever countenance that sort of thing here again. No one would ever think that the religious orders of nuns who ran these concentration camps would do anything other than spend the rest of their days repenting their crimes against humanity. No one would, surely not? Magdalene, the fallen woman rescued by Christ. Magdalene, the laundries run by nuns from four Catholic religious orders: The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity and The Good Shepherd Sisters.

Strangely, prostitution did not disappear in Ireland. Those girls who escaped the laundry became streetwalkers around the Grand Canal and St Stephen’s Green. As is the case with streetwalkers, they were often beaten, robbed, forced to perform free for corrupt gardai and occasionally murdered.

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In campaigns protesting raids and other drastic actions against prostitutes and sex workers, Christianity is often slagged off. That’s not fair; it’s how people interpret their duty as Christians that can lead to abuse. Here’s an example of Christian outreach, carried out in the same sort of way that civilian harm-reduction projects are done. Note that this helper ‘won’t apply for federal funds because she doesn’t want anything to interfere with “preaching the Word,”’and doesn’t see her role as trying to get women out of the industry  Excerpts only – click on the title for the complete story.

Jesus & strippers

Emily Belz, WorldMag.com

Los Angeles. Near midnight. Industrial buildings. Empty streets. Full parking lot. Men wander into a nondescript building, “Fantasy Castle.” Bouncers stand at the door. Inside, on stage. women dance to earn their rent. Men watch in the dark. Booze, perfume, and loneliness.

A group of young women with fistfuls of flamingo pink gift bags approach the bouncer and offer him cookies—yes, cookies. This is the second strip club they have visited, pulling up in a church minibus: They have five more on their list as they canvass neighborhoods north of Long Beach, south of Compton. The bouncer takes the cookies and lets them inside to the bar, the customers, and the dancers, who are all lined up on the stage.

“I hated lining up—like a cattle call,” remarks Harmony Dust outside the club. Dust, a former stripper, started slipping notes on the windshields of dancers six years ago telling them “you are loved”—and her ministry, I Am a Treasure, was born. Along with other women including former strippers, she lavishes love on women in the sex industry and teaches that Jesus loves them too. On this night, several of the dancers turn away from customers to give the gift-baggers bear hugs and tell them their real names.

Treasures—that’s what most people call the ministry—has a simple recipe: Bring gifts of lip gloss, jewelry, and handwritten cards into dressing rooms in strip clubs. Wait for phone calls, texts, or emails from the women that often come in just hours after the visit. “This is largely a seed-sowing ministry,” said Dust—and when sprouts appear, volunteers help with childcare and rides to church. They listen, talk, mentor, wait, and hope.

. . .  70 percent of Christians admitted to struggling with porn in their daily lives. Another poll by Rick Warren’s pastors.com in 2002 showed 54 percent of pastors had viewed pornography within the last year. . . . Dust started stripping under the name Monique at a club by the airport and managed to complete her undergraduate degree even while she was working in the sex industry at night. . . .

In 2003, while driving to the airport to pick John up, she drove by the same club where she used to strip—but she couldn’t pass it by. Filled with emotion and conviction, she pulled into the parking lot, and the security guard let her put notes on the women’s windshields telling them that they are loved. Then she couldn’t pass by clubs anymore, and she and others who joined her work began building relationships with dancers. She saw women eagerly reach for that same love she found in Jesus.

Dust doesn’t see her role as trying to get women out of the industry or tell them that their jobs are sinful. No one needs to tell them, she said—anyone in the industry feels a certain sickness in her soul. What they need is someone to extend the gospel through love. But she’s quick to say that Treasures volunteers don’t see themselves as strippers’ “saviors.” “I have nothing—I have lip gloss,” Dust said, laughing. “And I probably only have that because of Jesus.” The organization functions off a skeleton of a budget—under $100,000 a year—and Dust won’t apply for federal funds because she doesn’t want anything to interfere with “preaching the Word.”

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