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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 battle feminists and human-rights activists are facing now is not a simple rehash of whether sex work should be legal, or can be empowering, or is itself grounds for victim status. It’s about how to acknowledge the realities of trafficking and work to curb it while not tacitly supporting and furthering the tone set by religious fundamentalists, myopic law enforcement, and sensationalistic media. In September 2010,  Third Wave Foundation issued a statement that emphasized a need to recognize “young people engaged in sex work and impacted by the sex trade as critical partners in ensuring health and justice” rather than viewing them as powerless victims in need of unilateral “rescue.” With support from INCITE! and Third Wave Foundation, a group of radical women of color, queer people of color, and indigenous people who have engaged in or are currently engaging in the sex trade held a national leadership institute, which led to the  recent formation of FUSE (Fed Up and Strategizing for Empowerment). FUSE works to counter the worldview that collapses the complexities and diversity of people’s experiences within the sex trade as well as social and economic factors that shape them into an overly simplistic notion of “modern-day slavery.” It opposes Hollywood-style “solutions” that harm the very people—like the hostesses at Club 907—they ostensibly aim to help, and calls for approaches that engage and empower those of us who experience the sex trade. The struggle must be ongoing, because no single policy change—decriminalizing prostitution, for instance—will fundamentally transform the social and economic structures that abet the exploitation of marginalized communities.

Activists like those in FUSE face an uphill battle in an environment dominated by organizations that mask their moralism with a desire to protect the vulnerable, politicians who want to score tough-on-crime approval points, the private security industry that makes money off crisis and panic, the mass media that profit from oversimplification and sensationalism, and celebrities who need a pet cause. Still, regardless of how one thinks about prostitution and pornography, feminists have a common investment in solutions that actually reduce violence.

Feminists have been organizing against trafficking of women, children, and others for the purpose of sexual exploitation long before televangelists, counterterrorism experts, and celebrities got on board. We can lead society once again by refocusing the anti-trafficking movement to center the voices and struggles of people whose stories are not the ones dramatized on the movie screens—and who are all the more vulnerable for their erasure. 

Emi Koyama is a multi-issue social-justice activist and writer. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and blogs at

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