Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jerry Markon has a long piece in the Washington Post examining the Bush administration's efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States. "As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million -- all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States. But the government couldn't find them...The administration has identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated." The U.S. government's anti-human trafficking campaign began under the Clinton administration but it's been pumped up and spread out under Bush because it's a favorite issue of evangelicals and Christian activists, a group that might be said to include the president himself. One Christian activist, Gary Haugen, refers to it "a clear-cut, uncontroversial, terrible thing going on in the world," and that points up its appeal as a cause celebre to the kind of "religious" people who are more interested in upper-income tax cuts and passing laws against gays than in extending help or even sympathy to a bunch of dirty poor people who, they figure, must have pissed off God pretty badly to wind up in the cancer ward without health insurance. Once you get into the religious-Republican mindset that tells you that God identifies the righteous by giving them money, it isn't easy to find something to find something that gives you the chance to defend and embrace the powerless in a way that's "clear-cut" and "uncontroversial." Being anti-slavery is, as someone in the article puts it, a no-brainer.

One way that evangelicals have custom-fit the human trafficking issue to suit their needs is to turn it into sex slavery. I have a friend who's worked in combating human trafficking overseas during the last several years, and one thing that she's had to complain about as the evangelicals have taken over the issue is the way they've forcibly shifted the focus on women and children forced into prostitution. This is an awful thing, all right, but it's not the only kind of human trafficking and may not be the dominant kind. Yet the evangelicals, who seem to find it much, much more horrifying than, say, kids being stolen from their families and put to work in a mine or a field until they drop, have seen to it that the funding for projects specifically aimed at combating forced prostitution outweigh anything else. (And meanwhile, programs aimed at fighting less tabloid-friendly forms of modern slavery are going hungry by comparison.) The other wasteful miscalculation in the Bushies' approach is simply their decision to throw away millions looking for sex-slave operations inside the United States. Human trafficking has just been growing worse and worse in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, but there's no real reason to think that the relatively few cases that the Justice Department have been able to unearth are the tip of any iceberg. But American chauvinism being what it is, the Bushies would probably find the international scourge of human trafficking a lot easier to live with if they hadn't been able to convince themselves that any slave traders eking out a living in Bosnia or Vietnam must be trying to crack the U.S. market and make the big time.

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