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Christian Fundamentalists and Private Military Contractors? The Strange Bedfellows of the Sex Slavery Anti-Trafficking Movement

Mainstream anti-trafficking efforts are colored by a black-and-white worldview that lacks real understanding of the causes of global trafficking.

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The proliferation of the term signifies a rhetorical shift on the part of the U.S. government. Simply put, framing forced migration and labor (sexual and otherwise) as the work of international criminal enterprises, comparable to the smuggling of drugs and weapons, elides the reality that it is a social and economic issue arising from poverty, economic disparities, globalization, and unreasonable restrictions on migration. The U.S. government’s approach places the focus squarely on identifiable enemies who are often construed, like the kidnappers in  Taken, as evil, sadistic, ethnic Others—ignoring the ways in which capitalist social and economic structures (some of which the U.S. government has actively promoted) make people vulnerable.

As a result, the United States’ recent committment to a “War on Trafficking” mimics previous efforts—the epically failed “War on Drugs,” the nightmarish “War on Terror”—copying the “Just Say No” urgings of the former and the “Either you’re with us or you’re against us” rhetoric of the latter and offering an easy, black-and-white worldview that lacks structural analysis into systems of inequality and domination.

Take anti-trafficking newcomer Stop Child Trafficking Now (SCTNow), which is quickly gaining the support of companies like Facebook and Microsoft as well as the blessing of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher. The organization describes its “innovative approach” to addressing the trafficking of minors thus:

Stop Child Trafficking has chosen to fund a bold, new approach, one that addresses the demand side of child sex trafficking by targeting buyers/predators for prosecution and conviction. […] SCTNow has launched a national campaign to raise money for retired military operatives targeting the demand side of trafficking…. These operatives use the skills developed in the War on Terror in this war to bring down predators. Professional law enforcement have vetted this strategy and are eager to work with these operative teams once funding is secured.

Special Operative Teams gather information about child predators both in the U.S. and abroad…. These teams possess skills beyond the average military or law enforcement individual—skills that enable them to achieve their goals in foreign lands independently, without support of U.S. law enforcement resources.

Part of me wishes that this approach could really work. But shouldn’t we be a bit hesitant to trust military operatives who developed their skills in the War on Terror, seeing as how these same “experts” led the United States to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, detained Arab and Muslim Americans without due process, tortured innocent civilians and prisoners of war, conducted surveillance on Arab and Muslim communities in the United States, “renditioned” suspects to countries to outsource torture, and illegally wiretapped our telephone calls?

SCTNow’s description of its “special operations”—which the organization outsources to Global Trident, a private for-profit military intelligence firm with close ties to defense contractor Northrop Grumman, evangelical Christian outlet Middle East Television, and former members of military and domestic intelligence agencies—is troubling. Equally disturbing is the fact that, as a private organization, “the Special Operatives are not bound by the same restrictions that keep U.S. law enforcement from conducting research against sexual offenders.” Thus, the intelligence they gather need not be limited to something that is directly related to trafficking or even prostitution. Operatives are encouraged to record anything and everything that they deem relevant or interesting, which means they can collect information about immigration status or the personal lives of people uninvolved with sex trafficking. Because the organization is a private entity, the usual policies of evidence discovery do not apply, and neither do prohibitions against racial profiling and entrapment. There is no public oversight. So while the organization claims to obey all applicable laws, can we feel truly confident when these same experts violated laws and regulations in their supposed pursuit of “terrorists”?

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