Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns Reply

The religious right and the PC left united against sex worker rights.

By Elizabeth Berstein

During a blustery New York City winter in the final weeks of 2008,two very different cinematic events focused on the politics of gender,sexuality, and human rights stood out for their symmetry. The first event, a benefit screening of Call and Response (2008), a just-released “rockumentary” about human trafficking made by the Christian rock-musician-cum-filmmaker Justin Dillon, showed at a hip downtown cinema to a packed and enthusiastic mixed-gender audience of young, predominantly white and Korean evangelical Christians. The second event, a public screening of the film
Very Young Girls (2008), a sober documentary about feminist activist Rachel Lloyd and her Harlem-based nonprofit organization for teenaged girls in street prostitution, was populated primarily by secular, middle-aged professional women with a long-standing commitment to the abolition of the sex trade. Despite the obvious demographic contrasts between the participants and the different constellations of secular and religious values that they harbor, more striking still was the
common political foundation that the two groups have come to share. Over the past decade, mounting public and political attention has been directed toward the “traffic in women” as a dangerous manifestation of global gender inequalities. Media accounts have similarly rehearsed stories of the abduction, transport, and forced sexual labor of women and girls
whose poverty and desperation render them amenable to easy victimization in first- and third-world cities (see, e.g., Kristof 2004; Landesman2004; Lopez 2006). Meanwhile, a remarkably diverse group of social activists and policy makers—a coalition composed of abolitionist feminists,evangelical Christians, and both conservative and liberal government of-
ficials—have put forth an array of new legislation at the local, national,and transnational levels.

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