Christian Fundamentalists and Private Military Contractors? The Strange Bedfellows of the Sex Slavery Anti-Trafficking Movement
Continued from previous page
SCTNow, like many contemporary anti-trafficking organizations such as Shared Hope International and Love146, is part of a Christian fundamentalist movement ( an article in the November 2011 issue of Christianity Today even carried the subtitle: “Leading [Portland, Oregon’s] efforts to halt child trafficking is a network of dedicated Christians. Just don’t go advertising it.”). SCTNow was founded by Ron Lewis, the televangelist pastor of North Carolina mega-church King’s Park International Church, and his wife, author Lynette Lewis. Though I have spoken to several members of SCTNow who insist that most of the organization’s money comes from its nationwide “awareness walks,” King’s Park appears to be the organization’s single largest funder. Other prominent funders of anti-trafficking groups include NoVo Foundation, started by one of Warren Buffett’s children, and Hunt Alternatives Fund, founded by heirs to the fortune of Texas oil tycoon H.L. Hunt.
Given this background, it is not surprising that SCTNow, along with similar anti-trafficking concerns, uses a simplistic language of good and evil in its discussions of trafficking. In this way, its selling of the anti-trafficking movement closely mirrors the selling of the “War on Terror” in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Instead of untangling the resentment against American imperialism built up globally through centuries of exploitation, many Americans rushed to accept the nonsensical explanation, put forth by politicans and pundits, that terrorists “hate us because they hate freedom.” We wanted enemies that we could name and locate so that we might destroy them, not lessons in humility and self-reflection. Likewise, today’s mainstream anti-trafficking movement appeals to middle-class Americans with the idea that trafficking happens because there are bad people out there just waiting to take your kids away from schools and malls. Thus, its prevention efforts focus less on the systemic realities of poverty, racism, domestic abuse, and the dire circumstances surrounding runaway and thrownaway youth, and more on installing high-tech security cameras at schools and stationing more security guards at malls. And it measures the success of its activities by the number of criminal convictions it achieves, rather than by the long-term health and well-being of the women and children who are most at risk.
Furthermore, contemporary anti-trafficking efforts like SCTNow and USAID, with its “anti-prostitution pledge,” conflate prostitution and trafficking, even when their efforts are well-meaning. They may rightly reject the Hollywood myth of the glamorous, happy hooker who’s fully in control of her circumstances, but in doing so they substitute an equally simplistic trope that denies resiliency and agency in the choices people make to survive structural inequalities. This, too, appeals to a simplistic idea: Namely, that no one chooses to engage in prostitution unless they are physically or psychologically forced to do so. If we believe that prostitution happens because bad people (often depicted as men of color) force good children (often depicted as white and middle-class) into engaging in it, all we need to worry about is how to keep these bad people out of our schools and communities and let law enforcement handle the rest.
Indeed, there’s a historical precedent for what we’re witnessing today. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the profile of the American citizenry was changing: Racial and sexual anxieties took hold in the United States as emanicipated slaves moved north, white women organized to demand suffrage, and immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia flocked to the country. One result was a “white slavery” panic stoked by xenophobia. In response, an evangelical Christian movement was mobilized to combat the alleged evil. The presence of Asian women in brothels drew particular attention; because Asian women were considered hyper-submissive and therefore incapable of exercising agency, it was assumed that they had been imported for the purpose of sexual slavery. The panic eventually subsided without producing any actual evidence of such slavery, but its rhetoric did produce the nation’s first federal law against prostitution and trafficking, the Mann Act, and effected the extension of the openly racist Chinese Exclusion Act.