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Knights in Shining Armour

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Laura Augustín has an interesting piece at The Naked Anthropologist critiquing men like Nick Kristof who go around the world playing the role of the good white man saving brown women from evil brown men.

Men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale: That is how one man has described men who want to save sex slaves, seeking to differentiate themselves from less civilised, bad men – the ones that buy sex. In this idea, being a Good Man is achieved not by concern for world peace, equal opportunity, racism, the end of poverty or war but rather by concern for sex slaves.

But there is something else interesting here: the notion that Kara has been insulted by being placed in the chivalric tradition, which is generally assumed to represent something noble. Benz’s reference to Don Quixote shows he probably never studied chivalry himself. On the contrary, I imagine both Kara and Kristof would be chuffed to be associated with it. To critique knights in shining armour, as I do, you need to be not only interested in solving social problems but also interested in ending patriarchy, and knighthood is an elitist, male, hierarchical tradition in which white European men proved themselves to other men through treating women as objects, and women were supposed to be grateful, because they couldn’t possibly have gotten themselves out of their predicament unassisted, or figured out how to deal with life themselves in the first place. Note also my reference to human rights as the new grail.

In the contemporary example, men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damsels – acts more than legitimate to criticise.

Interesting stuff. You may not agree with all of it, although I mostly do agree, but the argument is worth having.

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  • MPAVictoria

    “men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damsels – acts more than legitimate to criticise.”

    Yeah let those sex slaves rescue themselves. Who needs laws or police?

    • mpowell

      I am blocked from viewing the full article by my work filter, but I have to agree with this sentiment. WTF? I also don’t see how working to prevent sex slavery in the 3rd world can be regarded any differently than dealing with racism, ie sanctions for South Africa.

    • DrDick

      I think her point here, and I agree that it is not well made, is that liberating these women is putting a bandaid on a gaping chest wound. That what is needed is actual empowerment of the women themselves and elimination of the underlying conditions which produce this situation.

      • MPAVictoria

        No offence DrDick but I wonder if the women who are saved would appreciate their rescue being referred to as a “bandaid”?

        • Ian

          If women who have been liberated remain in danger of being kidnapped and re-enslaved (and this is the case e.g. in Cambodia), then rescue is meaningless without trying to dent social conditions. Job training is a start, and that can make life somewhat more free and equitable for individual rescued women, but ultimately these are not problems that can be solved on an individual basis.

          • joe from Lowell

            Surely “meaningless” goes too far.

          • Tybalt

            “these are not problems that can be solved on an individual basis”

            Whose problems? It seems to me that quite often individuals’ problems can be solved on an individual basis.

            I will accept the critique that individual action is not sufficient to eliminate the problems; I will not accept that it is proper to try to exhort people to stop taking individual action, which Augustin does.

        • DrDick

          It solves their immediate problem, but does not solve the larger problem or even necessarily their larger problem. A significant number of women rescued in these kinds of operations wind up re-enslaved. I am not saying that we should not do this or that it does no good at all, but that this is not all we should be doing (indeed, it is literally the least we should do) and that the good it does is rather limited.

          • Aaron

            I agree completely. So why are critiques like this always presented as “You blind, misguided, self-centered idiots!” rather than “We can and must do more!” People are much more receptive to the latter.

            • Lee

              My guess is that more than a few people view solving the immediate problem as soemthing that prevents solving the larger problem. In this case, Augustin might argue that saving a few women from sex slavery here or there makes people feel good about themself. This means that they are satisifed with what they did and no attempts will be made to solve the large problem.

              This argument is morally dubious at best but a lot of people think this way.

              • DrDick

                And there is considerable evidence to support just that conclusion in this case. It is also the case that focusing on the immediate problem detracts from actually addressing the larger problems underlying it. A lot of effort is going into “rescuing” and/or “rehabilitating” (with minor education/job training programs) these women (many of whom voluntarily enter the sex trade) and virtually none into changing the underlying conditions of pervasive poverty and a lack of female empowerment.

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          Augustin disputes the premise that many of these women are actually slaves. I suspect that even she would grudgingly agree that anyone who has literally been kidnapped or coerced should be set free.

          Her argument is that most of the women whom Kristof and his friends call “sex slaves” are more like sex workers than literal slaves. They have low-paying, dangerous, socially stigmatized jobs but they aren’t bought and sold as chattel. In real life, there’s a lot of gray area between the slavery model and the bad job model, of course. If you and you and your children will literally starve if you quit your bad job, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that you’re freely choosing to work there, but nor is it strictly accurate to say you’re enslaved. But what if you keep your job in order to survive, even though your boss hits you, or rapes you, or steals your wages and makes you live in squalor. Are you a slave then? You’re certainly getting closer.

          The relative prevalence of sex slavery vs. sex work is an empirical question. The ratio probably varies depending on the country and the context.

          Augustin’s right that Kristof can be an uncritical cheerleader for anyone who claims to be freeing slaves. There are good reasons to be suspicious of unaccountable teams of do-gooders busting down the doors of brothels and turning the occupants out onto the street, like some of Kristof’s buddies do.

          • DrDick

            The available research indicates that the vast majority of sex workers in Thailand, a major hub for this activity and actual sex slavery, are in the business more-or-less voluntarily (they have the option of leaving). Most of them are young women from rural areas (mostly in the north) working to support their parents and siblings. While there is some stigmatization, these women are often welcomed back in their villages for their filial piety.

            Many of these women are recruited under shady circumstances (recruiters lie about the nature of the jobs), but this is something of an open secret and many of the families, if not the women themselves, should know. The real problem is the pervasive poverty, lack of economic development and jobs in the north, and lack of female empowerment.

            Conditions in Thailand’s thriving manufacturing sector, which also hires these young women from the north, are not actually much better and wages are often lower.

      • Jon H

        That might make sense if Kristof were doing his thing on the down-lo.

        But he’s a journalist, and reporting on what he’s done and what he’s learned, and such reporting is often part of the process of building support for the broader changes needed to make a lasting improvement.

  • DrDick

    I have not read the piece, and I am not sure that I completely agree with what she says here, but she has a good central point. It is not adequate to simply go around “liberating” these women, as Kristof does, you have to fundamentally change the system which enables, and to some extent mandates, this situation. This means, among many other things, empowering women politically and economically and eliminating the massive poverty that feeds this industry.

    • hylen
    • Hanspeter

      In a sense this is similar to the many disease elimination programs. It doesn’t matter how many anti-malarial pills you ship out if the environment is still very much supportive of growing lots of mosquitoes and parasites. You need to really affect

      Hookworm was endemic in the south until the early 20th century. It wasn’t the widespread use of antihlemintics that stopped it, but a comprehensive use of general infrastructure improvments, public health education, and medicine (via a Rockefeller donation).

      The problem with disease eradication and social issues like sex trafficking, is that it is much easier and cheaper to spend a couple million dollars and say we ‘cured X people’ or ‘saved Y women’ than to spend a couple billion to say ‘we have set up a system that stops Z’

      Unfortunately, Laura Augustín in the comments seems to make no distinction between those fighting against prostitution and against sex slave trafficking.

      • Aaron

        No, it pretty much still matters how many anti-malarial pills you ship out. Just like it matters if you produce AZT more cheaply even if there’s no cure for HIV. Just like it matters if you send food relief to a famine-stricken area even if you can’t create a fully functioning agricultural system or end water shortages. How the fuck did we collectively come up with the idea that “temporary” solutions are ALWAYS AND INCONTROVERTIBLY so meaningless that they only have the possibility of making things worse by masking the problem? These are peoples’ lives we’re talking about.

        Fuck the “disease”; if the patient’s going to die, settle for treating the symptoms.

        • Hanspeter

          To be clear, I’m in favor of ‘treating the symptom’ when possible because like you said, these are actual real people we’re talking about. If we can save 1, do it, rather than diddling around until you find a way to save 1,000,000.

          My comment was primarily trying to point out how often the temporary ‘treating the symptoms’ method becomes the only approach and long-term ‘finding a cure’ is pretty much forgotten (sometimes because of lack of funds, often because people think ‘treating the symptoms’ means ‘a cure is being used’).

      • DrDick

        In contrast to the situations you name, however, we know the underlying causes and have models for “curing” (or at least ameliorating) them in this case.

    • joe from Lowell

      It is clear you have not read the piece, because there is not a word in it suggesting what you are calling her “central point.”

      Her criticism of liberating sex slaves on an individual basis doesn’t deal with adequacy; she chastises Kristoff for the act, and the desire to so liberate sex slaves, in and of itself, based on what she presumes to be his motives.

  • joe from Lowell

    Nowadays, Nicholas Kristof is only one of a growing number of men seeking attention and praise through the rescue of a new kind of distressed damsel – poorer women called sex slaves. In this noble quest, women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options

    What a disgraceful human being. This p.o.s. is more concerned with Kristoff’s gender and color, and with advancing a canned narrative, than with women who are enslaved and raped. I love the use of “called.” They’re all just happy hookers, and if you don’t agree, you’re the sexist.

    This piece should be linked to only as a demonstration of how too much adherence to ideology can destroy someone’s capacity for moral reasoning and ultimately lead them to abandon even the most important of the principles that they started out hoping to advance.

    • Ben

      She’s not talking about the girls and women who are kidnapped and raped. She’s talking about the tendency of Kristof and Kara to completely deny the agency of girls and women who are selling sex.

      Instead of saying, “Look at this situation: these women are so poor and are located in societies with gender inequity so stark that they are choosing to sell their bodies. Let us help to change these societies so they do not face such horrific choices,” they say, “Look at these awful men who do this to girls and women. We need to save the girls and women from these awful men.”

      Forget about papering over the actual problem (which of course it does; “a culture of gender exploitation that has survived only because of spin and lies” nope try again), the Kristof/Kara framework doesn’t treat women as actual people. Read the review of Kara’s book, it’s pretty damning.

      • joe from Lowell

        She’s not talking about the girls and women who are kidnapped and raped. She’s talking about the tendency of Kristof and Kara to completely deny the agency of girls and women who are selling sex.

        You mean she’s inventing this agency and projecting it onto women who have been kidnapped and raped. This distinction you’re making? She doesn’t make it. She reads about the rescue of sex slaves, and tells us that those slaves are only “called” sex slaves.

        Forget about papering over the actual problem

        You’re papering over the actual problem. Instead of dealing with sex slavery, you’re simply wishing its existence away, apparently because economically-induced prostitution is supposed to fit better into a class narrative.

        • Ben

          Calm down. Read the review of Kara’s book. All sorts of sex work gets collapsed into “sex slavery” and Kara doesn’t have the intellectual framework or do the legwork of gathering data to treat women as having agency. That’s the entire point of the review. There’s a fairly large body of scholarship about this stuff, featuring all kinds of sex work practices that don’t involve kidnappings and rapes, in which women deal with the environments they find themselves in as people, and Kara (an MBA) ignores all that and molds his every interaction into his “sex slavery” mystique instead of dealing with actual practices.

          Your comments are really confusing, too. You quote her talking about “women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options” and then say she’s only talking about women who are kidnapped and raped? Buh? She’s making the same point as above, that people collapse all kinds of sex worker practices into “sex slavery”. Finally,

          Instead of dealing with sex slavery, you’re simply wishing its existence away, apparently because economically-induced prostitution is supposed to fit better into a class narrative.

          Nope. I’m recognizing the existence of a wide range of sex work practices. Obviously, the kidnapping/raping practices should be stopped with whatever means we can figure out to stop them. But we can’t pretend that all sex work everywhere is a results of kidnappings and rapes because it just isn’t true, denies the agency of women in those situations, and prevents us from truly accounting them and figuring out how to ameliorate the conditions which give rise to them. The end of the Kara review lists as a source The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia. That’d probably be a good place to start if you’re interested in stuff like this.

          • Jon H

            Get back to us when Kristof tries to buy the freedom of a surgically-enhanced dancer at Scores in Manhattan.

            • Jon H

              Or Nina Hartley, for that matter.

        • joe from Lowell

          I’m completely calm. Your need to strike a superiority pose suggests you’re not.

          The reaction to simplifying the issue into kidnapping-only cannot be simplifying it into economic prostitution-only. Find me an acknowledgment anywhere in the linked piece in which Augustinin demonstrates any more complexity than what you criticize. Find me a single word in which she even deigns to acknowledge that problem, much less the legitimacy of objecting to it.

          You quote her talking about “women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options” and then say she’s only talking about women who are kidnapped and raped?

          No, I don’t. I quote her talking about “women who prefer…” (nice word choice. I dare you to use it when describing a legally-employed American worker who faces undesirable workplace conditions) and then object to her lumping victims of violent abduction and slavery under that title. By using this term to describe the people Kristol is discussion, she IS discussing women and girls who have been violently forced.

          Obviously, the kidnapping/raping practices should be stopped with whatever means we can figure out to stop them.

          Saying this makes you better than Augustinin, who sneers at those who agree and takes their concern as an ideological sin, but it still shouldn’t have taken this much arm-twisting to get you to grudgingly admit it. Speaking of good places to start if you’re interested in stuff like this, this statement is the starting point from which anyone interested in stuff like this should start.

          • “I’m completely calm. Your need to strike a superiority pose suggests you’re not.”

            This is starting to sound like Walter Sobcheck after he pulls his gun on poor Smoky for stepping over the line.

            • joe from Lowell

              Of course, if Walter wasn’t actually holding a gun, there would be nothing funny about the line.

              This is not exactly drawing a gun in a bowling alley.

              • BrianM

                joe from Lowell: Just curious, but have the words “I might have been mistaken” or “I might have overreacted” ever crossed your lips?

                • joe from Lowell

                  Yes.

                  I apologize if I’m wrong so seldom that you haven’t gotten to see it.

                • DrDick

                  Not to my knowledge. of course he never admits he is wrong about anything.

          • Ben

            Agustín (I misspelled it a few times before checking, too) talks about voluntary, ambivalent and coerced migration, about sex work as an economic choice, about actual master/slave relationships and about different means of resisting coercion. I’m not sure what else you want her to mention.

            On the “women who prefer” stuff, the language first. Her point is to emphasize that these women have agency against a framework which denies agency. In that context the existence of a choice is crucial. In American political economic contexts no-one really denies any group agency in the same manner; the debates are about the fairness of choices. On her actual point, she’s saying “under Kristof’s framework women choosing to sell sex get treated thus.” It’s her thesis for the piece, in a sense. You could critique her for not making women who are kidnapped and raped the center of her piece, though she does talk about coercion a fair amount.

            That leads to the last point. The entire reason for the review and the post is to establish that the Kristof/Kara framework for sex work lumps things together in harmful ways. It does so. Expressing outrage at the same things the people being criticized do is tangential to the point of the essay. Further, people in the field shouldn’t have to demonstrate they’re outraged by the correct things with every piece that they write.

            Whoops there I go wishing away the existence of sex slavery again.

            • joe from Lowell

              Agustín (I misspelled it a few times before checking, too) talks about voluntary, ambivalent and coerced migration, about sex work as an economic choice, about actual master/slave relationships and about different means of resisting coercion.

              Not in this post, she doesn’t. She could have spared a few words to acknowledge that these women exist and that liberating them is a good thing, but she didn’t. She denounces Kristoff in toto.

              The entire reason for the review and the post is to establish that the Kristof/Kara framework for sex work lumps things together in harmful ways. It does so. Expressing outrage at the same things the people being criticized do is tangential to the point of the essay. Further, people in the field shouldn’t have to demonstrate they’re outraged by the correct things with every piece that they write.

              A really, really bad way to go about criticizing someone for inappropriate lumping is to do it yourself, as she did in this piece, and as she unavoidably does when she criticizes the desire, and the substantive actions taken, to free women from slavery as reflecting an ideologically unacceptable world view.

              Whoops there I go wishing away the existence of sex slavery again.

              You should really calm down.

      • djw

        I think we should be open to a complex enough view of the world that we consider the possibility that some “rescuers” evince a condescending, paternalistic, self-aggrandizing version of masculinity, and that the acts of rescue they conduct are still a net positive contribution to the cause of human freedom and well-being.

        • Jason

          I’m sorry, this is just too complex. Please choose one of the following colors: black, white.

          • Aaron

            You want TWO colors? You relativistic bastard!

    • Name

      This.

  • Tybalt

    Also, this:

    “I imagine both Kara and Kristof would be chuffed to be associated with it.”

    Is just pathetic. Let them speak for themselves, or not at all.

  • Jon H

    This kind of “how dare they try to help” response that makes me sympathize with Steve Jobs’ lack of charitable efforts.

    • Although it wasn’t a lack of charity Jobs was taking a lot of flack for, it was that the people who made the products for his own incredibly profitable company live in nearly sub-human conditions.

      Very different things.

      • Aaron
      • UserGoogol

        No, he also got a lot of flack for not donating his money to much of any charitable causes. (Type “Steve Jobs charity” into Google.) They’re really unrelated issues, since Bill Gates has gotten a lot of praise for his charitable work, even though Microsoft has also had some comparably exploitative manufacturing processes. (Foxconn also makes Xboxes, even.)

        • Jon H

          It’s only a matter of time before we find out some charity is handing out mosquito nets made in a Chinese sweatshop.

      • Jon H

        As noted, there was also flack for the lack of charitable donations. He ended Apple’s charitable match program, for instance. And if he gave anything to charity himself, it’s been kept very secret or didn’t happen.

        I’m inclined (partly because I’m a fanboy) to cut him a little slack, especially with regards to comparisons to Gates. Gates had a *lot* more money, and had it for a lot longer. Jobs was basically burning through his original Apple money until the Pixar IPO, and even then, it wasn’t exactly liquid.

    • Name

      It reminds me of Sean Penn during Hurricane Katrina. People on the right were mocking him for trying to help evacuate people from the city with his boat. At least he did SOMETHING, though. At least he was trying. And the people who sat on their asses and criticized him for what they supposed his motives to be weren’t doing anything at all.

    • joe from Lowell

      Seriously, this. She sees someone who is extremely concerned with a problem that she herself is concerned about, but who is, in her view, going about it all wrong.

      Does she take the opportunity to agree with the desire to solve the problem but explain that his conception or execution is not broad enough?

      Of course not. She attacks his very concern with the problem, the very fact that he makes an effort to ameliorate it, as evidence of his ideological shortcomings and desire for personal aggrandizement.

      • Jon H

        The Kony 2012 thing got similar responses.

        Okay, so they’re some gurning pretty boy youth minister types from America, and social media isn’t going to achieve much on its own, and the money is going who knows where. (And apparently there’s connections to right-wing Christian groups, which puts a real stink on the whole thing given the same groups’ anti-gay efforts in the same region.)

        But some people complained on similar racial, patriarchal, infantilizing lines, bringing up white man’s burden, saying that it’s arrogant to think we know better, etc.

        • Tybalt

          The problem with “the Kony 2012 thing” is that it’s directly supporting a military force (the Ugandan army) that is causing extensive misery in Uganda – rape, murder, torture and the rest. It is totally different from what Kristof is doing, which may not be effectual to solve the root problem but which certainly isn’t causing a net increase in human suffering.

  • Stag Party Palin

    Bwahahaha… I cannot imagine how we can hope to change human society to the point that prostitution (and associated issues such as sex slavery) disappears. You’re dealing with basic human drives here. I would compare it to attempting to ban alcohol and drugs. Fuggedaboudit. Now some kind of authoritarian control, maybe, but sex is a product that does not require manufacuring facilities and distribution networks that are (maybe) controllable.

    Jeebus. Why do I get the feeling that Augustin has just put into scholarly terms the phrase breathily uttered by Miss America contestants: “I would like to have world peace. Thank you.”

    (/cynic)

    • Name

      Not only “I would like to have world peace,” but “I would like to have world peace, but I think anyone who stops an individual act of violence and also happens to be white and male is clearly an asshole who only did so to show that they’re part of a patriarchal western tradition of chauvinism and clearly has no interest whatsoever in systematically making humans somehow stop being violent.”

    • joe from Lowell

      I cannot imagine how we can hope to change human society to the point that prostitution (and associated issues such as sex slavery) disappears.

      There’s a difference between the existence of a field of enterprise and the presence of grossly exploitative conditions within it.

    • Lee

      I agree with you that its not really possible to completely get rid of commericial sex in general or prostitution in particular. What we can do is greatly reduce it and force what is left of the commercial sex industry into the least ethnically and morally obnoxious form possible.

      At least in Western societies, an increasing acceptance of heterosexual pre-marital sex and a decrease in concerned in women’s viriginity probably greatly reduced the number of men who patronize prostitutes. An increase in economic opportunities for women probably led to a decrease in women entering the commercial sex industry.

      We can’t get rid of commercial sex, we can control the form it takes though and decrease it.

    • Lindsay Beyerstein

      Comparing Agustín to an apocryphally ditzy Miss America contestant is factually wrong and sexist.

      Agustín isn’t out to eliminate sex work. It’s the neo-abolitionists who think they can stamp out prostitution, not Agustín.

      The neo-abolitionists who think they can stamp out sex work are no more realistic than the drug warriors who think the same kinds of tactics will eventually vanquish narcotics: “I would like a drug free society, please, and I’m not going to stop busting down doors until I get it.” That kind of reasoning is no more respectable than Miss America’s, but it’s backed by a lot more violence and accompanied by much more collateral damage.

      • Name

        Ah, so it’s “sexist” to criticize her for attacking people who- unlike her- are actively trying to stop women from being kidnapped and raped. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • justaguy

    As far as the “What’s so wrong about opposing sex slavery” line in the above comments, if you read the counterpunch review there are a few points that she makes.

    1) There is a good deal of scholarly research on human trafficking. Rather than relying on established scholarship, or on established research methodology Kara wanders as a tourist through the sex industry on various continents deriving his conclusions from scattered conversations of dubious empirical value.

    2) The scholarship on sex trafficking portrays a much more complex picture of the sex industry. Pointing to this complexity is not a rationalization of human rights abuses. But it is necessary both for understanding what the problem of the sex industry is (presumably there are lots of very different sex industries, but this is an oversimplification), and for recognizing the humanity of the people within it.

    3) Focusing on the suffering of sex slaves to the extent that it obscures the wider political economy within which sexual slavery happens is depoliticizing. It trades an understanding of a wider political and economic system within which someone can be enslaved for sex, for a simple morality tale in which the morally pure anti-slavery crusader can save the damsel in distress.

    • Ben

      Yuhp. Seems like people are more reacting to the tone of the blog post instead of the arguments in the book review.

      • Jason

        I think it is fair to say that both Augustin and Kristof have reached points in their careers where they conceive themselves as larger-than-life figures. This leads, per usual, to forms of intellectual and ethical carelessness.

        In Kristof’s case, this manifests in a valorization of the great-man-acting-alone trope of intervention, be the great man himself, Greg Mortenson, or someone similar.

        In Augustin’s case, the problem is her tendency to blur a valid pragmatic point–that certain widely accepted approaches to relief and rescue are unproductive (for example, a refusal to engage with traffickers except insofar as one tries to arrest them)–with the stupid idea that there’s something illicitly ‘Western’ in regarding traffickers as victimizers at all.

        In neither case do these lapses prevent their work from having any value.

        • Aaron

          The effect of Augustin’s argument is to imply that my desires to assist poor women living in the third world in any way short of wholescale transformation (which I also desire, btw) is systematically illegitimate because of my race, class, gender, and nationality. I think it’s understandable that people react negatively to that assertion. Nobody likes to be disempowered because of their identity.

      • mpowell

        Again, I can’t access the review itself but this summary leaves me a lot more favorably disposed towards it.

    • Name

      1) There is a good deal of scholarly research on human trafficking. Rather than relying on established scholarship, or on established research methodology Kara wanders as a tourist through the sex industry on various continents deriving his conclusions from scattered conversations of dubious empirical value.

      So? Still more than 99.999% of us will do, including scholars.

      2) The scholarship on sex trafficking portrays a much more complex picture of the sex industry. Pointing to this complexity is not a rationalization of human rights abuses. But it is necessary both for understanding what the problem of the sex industry is (presumably there are lots of very different sex industries, but this is an oversimplification), and for recognizing the humanity of the people within it.

      Okay, but that still doesn’t justify attacking people for giving a shit about it and trying to ameliorate it. If the only rebuttal to a societal ill is to say that “it’s really complex so don’t touch it until you’ve got a PhD in the scholarship on it,” I suppose we’ll never advance anything. What’s amusing about this is that it arrives at the same position as the arch-conservative do-nothing status-quo supporter, but it comes at it from the left. “Unless we can have plate tectonic shifts in human nature, anyone who tries to fix this problem at all is only a Quixotic WASP patriarch making it worse” is an asinine, bigoted position, but one that people who supported sex trafficking would wholeheartedly endorse.

      3) Focusing on the suffering of sex slaves to the extent that it obscures the wider political economy within which sexual slavery happens is depoliticizing. It trades an understanding of a wider political and economic system within which someone can be enslaved for sex, for a simple morality tale in which the morally pure anti-slavery crusader can save the damsel in distress.

      No, it trades “total unawareness” for “incomplete awareness.” I’ll take incomplete awareness over “everybody shut up about this issue until we’ve made all men everywhere purge themselves from presumptively-sexist motives” any day.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        It’s a straw man to say that people are getting attacked for “giving a shit.” Kristof gets rightly criticized for uncritically cheering on some groups that use very dubious tactics. If they’re truly liberating slaves, that’s one thing.

        But that’s a big “if.” If they’re using force to interfere with women who aren’t in fact enslaved, that’s at best morally dubious, and possibly morally wrong.

        • kingtoots

          While I like a good internet bun fight as much as the next person, this comment really intrigued me.

          So if one is a women who chooses a life of prostitution and someone “liberates” me against my will, surely, I can go back to this life the next day? Or won’t the pimp take her back? How does the liberation prevent someone eventually going back to prostitution if that is what they want?

          In fact, it sounds like a really easy gig for the hooker to do, and sounds like an elaborate role-playing activity that they could make a buck on, over and over again and they should be welcoming it. Oh Bwanna! save me from my evil pimp! Tha t will be 50 dollars please.

          Tell me where I’m wrong (Not that I need to tell anyone here that!).

          • DrDick

            So if one is a women who chooses a life of prostitution and someone “liberates” me against my will, surely, I can go back to this life the next day?

            Given that the women generally are transported many miles from their place of employment (often returned to their home villages), it can be difficult to return the next day, but many do indeed return, after losing significant income.

            • kingtoots

              How do the “liberators” know the home town of the woman in question?

              Are the pimps so inundated with women who want to “put on the red light” that they wouldn’t foot the bill for a woman who wanted to come back if she was a good earner?

              Are there pimps or are these women independent contractors?

              So the liberators just plunk the women down in their “home towns” without any kind of walking around money to start them on their new life? Sounds rude.

              Let me get this straight, so if you liberate 10 women of which 1 doesn’t want to be a prostitute but the other nine do and come back, the moral calculus is the lost wages of 9 women for a couple of days vs. the one who doesn’t want to be a prostitute getting a new lease on life. Is this correct or is it more like all 10 want to be prostitutes and very few are doing it against their will?

              • DrDick

                1) They ask the women where they are from.

                2) While that is a crass overstatement (and awfully condescending toward the women involved), basically yes there are lots of women available.

                3) There are pimps and some of the women are independent contractors.

                4) Again a stupid and demeaning comment, but the “liberators do not generally provide the women with any long term means of support, which is why they were in prostitution in the first place.

                Why don’t you take the time to actually read the research on the topic and familiarize yourself with the facts instead of making a lot of boorish, uniformed statements?

                • DrDick

                  From the Wikipedia entry:

                  Estimates of the number of prostitutes vary widely and are subject to controversy. A 1974 study put the number of prostitutes at 500,000 to 700,000. A 2004 estimate by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University gives a total of 2.8 million sex workers, including 2 million women, 20,000 adult males and 800,000 minors under the age of 18.[5] One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year or about three percent of the Thai economy.[6] It has been suggested for example that there may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Koh Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually associated with prostitution, and that at least 10% of tourist dollars may be spent on the sex trade.[7] According to a 2001 report by the World Health Organisation: “The most reliable suggestion is that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers.”[8] A recent government survey found that there were 76,000 to 77,000 adult prostitutes in registered entertainment establishments; however, NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes.[3]

                  More facts are available here.

                • kingtoots

                  I think that it is awfully silly of the women to tell them where they live if they don’t want to go back there but thanks for putting me in my place.

                  I’m just a casual observer so it is quite likely that I’m going to make stupid and boorish comments in trying to understand this problem but unfortunately that is pretty much the only way that I learn, by asking questions.

                  I hope that if you have a problem in math or engineering that the person that you get to help you doesn’t tell you it is complicated and that you are an idiot when you ask simple minded questions.

                • DrDick

                  kingtoots –

                  If I have a problem in math or engineering (and my father was an engineer), I will not ask arrogant, condescending, and deliberately antagonistic questions when looking for help. Acting like you know better than the people who actually study the problem and attacking them does not endear you to them or make them inclined to help you, or even to be civil.

        • Name

          But without knowing, it’s perfectly acceptable to criticize their actions and motives and to respond to your critics in turn by labeling them “sexists” for giving a shit, right?

      • justaguy

        “No, it trades “total unawareness” for “incomplete awareness.” I’ll take incomplete awareness over “everybody shut up about this issue until we’ve made all men everywhere purge themselves from presumptively-sexist motives” any day.”

        No, she’s not criticizing him for only having one part of the story, she’s criticizing him for fundamentally distorting the reality of sex workers’ lives due to the preconceived notions with which he entered his ‘research’ and the due to the fact that he approaches it as a morality tale and not a social phenomenon. You can agree or disagree with her point of view, but simply reasserting the morality tale without addressing her critique – and I’m pointing to her scholarship in general, not necessarily this article – rather misses the point.

        • Name

          I read her as criticizing him for giving a shit. Otherwise, I don’t see the point in her repeated references to knights in white armor saving damsels in distress at all. That entire analogy is meaningless unless she’s criticizing him for the heinous act of caring enough to write about it and try to ameliorate it.

          Given her preconceived dogmatism, I’m not inclined to trust her “scholarship” at all. I fail to see why I should automatically view Kristof as a self-aggrandizing show-pony, but I should trust this smug do-nothing who attacks people for elevating public awareness of a serious problem.

      • justaguy

        ” If the only rebuttal to a societal ill is to say that “it’s really complex so don’t touch it until you’ve got a PhD in the scholarship on it,” I suppose we’ll never advance anything.”

        The guy wrote a book that claims to analyze sex trafficking without addressing a large body of scholarship on the subject, or conducting anything recognizable as research. If I were to write a book on global warming that consisted of talking about the weather, would you take it as a serious analysis of the issue? I’m sure that academics could do more to make their research more accessible, but I don’t see why everyone is defending this guy for not knowing what he’s talking about. Its as if his heart being in the right place makes up for the fact that he’s stumbling around in the dark.

        As far as what you need to do in order to solve the problem of sex trafficking, I am of the opinion that programs that address social problems should, to the extent possible, be based on accurate research into those problems. I’m sorry if that comes off as elitist (I’m working on a PhD in anthropology, actually…) but I’d be surprised if there weren’t NGO’s working with sex workers that base their programs on available research. I’ve worked in different areas of direct service NGOs (prison reentry) and we were always going back and forth with researchers – they were using our program to conduct studies, and we were using their studies to help better run our program.

    • justaguy

      Oh, and that his research would never be able to pass any Institutional Review Board, which is necessary for interviewing people. It is not ethical to do research on vulnerable populations without taking steps to protect them.

    • MPAVictoria

      “3) Focusing on the suffering of sex slaves to the extent that it obscures the wider political economy within which sexual slavery happens is depoliticizing. It trades an understanding of a wider political and economic system within which someone can be enslaved for sex, for a simple morality tale in which the morally pure anti-slavery crusader can save the damsel in distress.”

      Shorter justaguy: You people cannot see the sex trade forest for the women being raped trees.

    • DrDick

      Exactly. And I have read that literature, as I teach it both in my gender class and my race and ethnicity class (as a variant on the older colonial appropriation of women and the slave trade).

  • Name

    Also, remember, if you give a poor man a meal, you’re a patrician working to perpetuate an unjust class system. You could be much more heroic if, instead of volunteering in a soup kitchen, you published stories in academic journals pointing out how people who work in soup kitchens are heartless monsters whose self-aggrandizing quest to feed individuals obfuscates the issue of poverty and delays the glorious arrival of global Marxism.

    This smug, condescending bullshit is the “feminist” equivalent of “government handouts hurt poor people by encouraging them to be lazy.”

    • Dave

      To be fair, a) it is a bit of a double-bind, the whole white-guy-saves-the-day thing; but b) our culture is still far too much oriented to paying attention when a white guy tries to save the day, and not before…

      • Name

        Sure, but the fact that no individual in this society can change that should not excuse us from doing nothing- or from criticizing people who do just because they happen to be white.

      • Aaron

        White men don’t care about poor women! Look how many of them do nothing in the face of abhorrent conditions.

        Also, white men are paternalistic towards poor women! Look how they rush to their aid like entitled, self-aggrandizing chivalric boners.

        http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/096/044/trollface.jpg?1296494117

    • Furious Jorge

      if you give a poor man a meal, you’re a patrician working to perpetuate an unjust class system.

      What if you tip in a restaurant?

      • Name

        You monster, you’re worse than Hitler!

  • Name

    I could play this game all day. “Instead of applauding the firefighter for rushing into the burning building to save a woman’s life, let’s instead criticize him as a direct successor to chivalric tradition of rescuing damsels in distress, and point out that instead of saving people from that burning building he should, instead, go and devote himself to inventing cheap building materials that are impervious to fire.”

    “Instead of saving individuals by shoving them into lifeboats, let’s pause, instead, to criticize those shoving people into lifeboats, and point out that as members of the crew of this ship, they are in fact complicit in the unjust system that allowed that ship to sink in the first place.”

    • Jason

      It’s best not to let all the outrage over Augustin attacking poor Nicolas Kristof (really, who gives a crap) with the important point in this vicinity. The important point is that good intentions are not enough. Indeed, that they’re not even good unless accompanied by a desire to understand as thoroughly as possible the situation in which one wishes to intervene, and a realization that achieving this understanding will require enormous hard work and humility.

      • John

        But Augustin’s point is that good intentions are actually bad, because they are patriarchal and racist.

        • Name

          Yep. We should probably spit on that fireman, demand that he put that woman back in her flaming bedroom, and send him off to go read books on gender inequality while the fire spreads and the woman asphyxiates. After all, his motives can hardly be altruistic- he gets a paycheck, paid for by a patriarchal society with an enshrined system of gender inequality that ensures us that no man can ever be nice to a woman without having inappropriate and base motives of perpetuating her disenfranchisement.

          • Jon H

            The fireman just wants to throw her over his shoulder like a fresh kill, and display her to his comrades.

        • Jason

          I grant that Augustin’s attack in the blog post on Kristof was lazy and annoying. But I do think that ‘good intentions’ are dubious as hell if they’re not accompanied by a willingness to take seriously the possibility that anthropologists like Augustin, however off-putting we may find them, have something important to tell us about the nature of the situations our ‘good intentions’ concern.

          The general point here is banal: the criterion for being seriously committed to an end is that one is seriously committed to answering the (often extremely difficult) question of what are the best means.

          This is what gives the lie to social conservatives’ commitment to ‘life’, for example.

          • joe from Lowell

            But I do think that ‘good intentions’ are dubious as hell if they’re not accompanied by a willingness to take seriously the possibility that anthropologists….

            Hold on there. Let’s grant the value of the the anthropologists’ argument.

            Do you actually mean to say that the intentions of those who put up their own money to rescue women from slavery cease to actually be good if they don’t dwell on, or have never heard of, what anthropologists think?

            • Bill Murray

              no, the idea is that those putting up their own money to rescue those they believe are in slavery may in fact be wrong about the slavery and hence they should find out about the situation before thinking they are saving the day, when they may be making it worse

          • Jon H

            “a willingness to take seriously the possibility that anthropologists like Augustin, however off-putting we may find them, have something important to tell us about the nature of the situations our ‘good intentions’ concern.”

            It’s also possible that anthropologists find miserable people more interesting and a better source of papers.

            “Don’t help those people! I’m not tenured yet!”

            • DrDick

              And it might be that people who know nothing about anthropology or the topic under discussion make up dismissive bullshit without any facts to back them up.

    • Sebastian Dangerfield

      That is a terrible analogy; it affirmatively undermines the point you are attempting to make. The firefighter is a professional whose job it is to go into burning buildings and rescue people and who is trained in how to do so effectively, while also fighting the fire (i.e., the conditions underlying the plight of the person inside). That would be closer to the model of intervention that Agustín is arguing for. The model she is arguing against is the well-meaning do-gooder with no training that goes bumbling into the building to rescue the person inside and ends up making the whole situation worse and more dangerous (i.e., the professionals now have two people to rescue while also trying to put out the fire; the would-be rescuer might open a door that produces a backdraft that endangers not only the would-be rescuer and rescuee but the professional firefighters as well, etc.) Agustín is making the case the the likes of Kristof and Kara are the officious intermeddlers that may well fuck things up more — by drawing attention and resources away from more intelligent approaches to the problem and the like — not the professional firefighters.

  • ajay

    Anthropology, the Troll of the Social Sciences…

    • Jason

      I know! It’s so annoying the way they encourage us to actually understand the situations we get involved in. And then there’s their gauche refusal to take as an axiom that our own motives, as opposed to everyone else’s, are transparent and pure.

      • DrDick

        On behalf of my profession, thank you. We do rather think that overall context is important and that ethnocentrism, even when engaged in an apparently noble cause, is counterproductive.

    • Furious Jorge

      I thought that was economics.

      • ajay

        No, economics is the spam of the social sciences. Anthropology is the troll because of its unfailing ability to start loud, prolonged and flailing arguments by saying outrageous things and then saying “look, if you can’t handle the truth…”

        • justaguy

          The anthropological focus on questioning preconceived notions among one’s own culture does cause conflicts when in conversation with people who aren’t comfortable examining their a priori assumptions (as is happening in this thread). But ideally its not just yelling at people that they’re clueless – Augustin has done years of research and published two books and several articles on the subject. Presumably some of her writing backs up her assertions with empirical observations.

          But the conflict here is not based on her lack of an argument. Its based on a refusal to examine her premise that sex trafficking is best approached empirically as a complex social phenomena and not as a moral crisis to be crusaded against. Even if only to reject her argument – its entirely possible that she’s wrong, but you can’t really resolve that by replying, as some do, with moral outrage instead of empirical studies.

  • Name

    I can probably take her critique more seriously if I pretend she’s talking about Batman:

    It is good luck for Good MenBatman that sex slavery the Joker trying to destroy Gotham City and kill 90% of its population has been identified as a terrible new phenomenon requiring extraordinary actions. In the chivalric tradition, to rescue a damsel in distress ranked high as a way knights errant could prove themselves, along with slaying dragons and giants. Nowadays, Nicholas Kristof Batman is only one of a growing number of men seeking attention and praise through the rescue of a new kind of distressed damsel – poorer women called sex slaves Gotham City. In this noble quest, women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options cities that prefer to pay the Joker’s ransom rather than be destroyed are not consulted but must be saved, and human rights are the existence of Gotham City is the new grail. The association with Christianity is not casual. Siddharth Kara Commissioner Gordon, another man seeking saintliness, uses lite economics the Bat Light – another trendy way to get noticed these days.

    …”In Laura Agustin’s cynical worldview, men who hold the opinion that prostituting women paying the Joker’s ransom is wrong and endeavor to do something about it are, in fact, misguided crusaders in the tradition of Don Quixote lost in chivalric fantasy on a mortal quest to feed their own egos by saving damsels in distress. In her article, Not Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Sex Trafficking Crime, Extortion, Agustin specifically targets two men amongst what she portrays as a growing parade of attention-seeking phony heroes (cue the paparazzi) – Nicholas Kristof and Siddharth Kara Batman and Commissioner Gordon.

    “Unsettling as it is for Agustin to accept the presence of men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale, Kristof and KaraBatman and Gordon are helping to shed light on a culture of gender exploitationcrime that has survived only because of spin and lies. Where the rest of us see two men of intelligence and compassion, Agustin sees ulterior motive. In my experience, ones own ill intent makes one suspicious of ill intent in others. What is Agustin’s motive in attacking those working hard to end the exploitation of women extortion of Gotham? More spin and lies I suspect.

    Robert J. Benz
    Founder & Executive Vice President
    Frederick Douglass Family Foundation”

    A culture of gender exploitation crime has only survived because of spin and lies? What? No interest in poverty or cultures of gender inequality superhero idealization from this crusader! Cynicism is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Note that Benz clearly places his kind of man on the high end of evolution, in that overtly colonialistic move in which white menmen in capes save brown women men in business suits from brown menthe Joker. I don’t even understand the last sentence: how can a motive be spin? The guy should have looked me up first and come up with a better attack. And got a copyeditor.

    But there is something else interesting here: the notion that KaraGordon has been insulted by being placed in the chivalric tradition, which is generally assumed to represent something noble. Benz’s reference to Don Quixote shows he probably never studied chivalry himself. On the contrary, I imagine both Kara and KristofGordon and Batman would be chuffed to be associated with it. To critique knights in shining armour, as I do, you need to be not only interested in solving social problems but also interested in ending patriarchy, and knighthood is an elitist, male, hierarchical tradition in which white European mencrimefighters proved themselves to other mencrimefighters through treating womenordinary citizens as objects, and womenordinary citizens were supposed to be grateful, because they couldn’t possibly have gotten themselves out of their predicament unassisted, or figured out how to deal with life themselves in the first place. Note also my reference to human rightsthe existence of Gotham City as the new grail.

    In the contemporary example, men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damselscitizens – acts more than legitimate to criticise.

    • Name

      Dammit, I missed a reference to damsels in distress. Oh well, pretend that says “stopping the Joker” or something.

    • You can criticize her argument and that’s fine. But do you really not see the problem in the “men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale” line? That goes a long ways in proving that she makes some strong points.

      • Lee

        I do not thing that Name is so much as criticizing Augustin’s point as Name is putting into cultural language that more contemporary people could understand and relate to.

        • Name

          No, I’m criticizing her point. I think it’s inane and ridiculous to chastise a man for doing SOMETHING to ameliorate a problem by making presumptions about his motives (which she can’t possibly know). When right-wingers made the same point mocking Sean Penn for taking his boat into NOLA to save isolated people from Hurricane Katrina, people thought they were assholes; but when this woman dedicates herself to the same level of ad hominem mockery of someone she doesn’t even know on the basis of her feminist purism that helps no one anywhere achieve anything, I’m supposed to take her seriously?

          • Lee

            Okay, I get your point now. I’m not really that good with pop culture reference. I kind of agree with you but have some sympathies in Augustin’s direction.

            • Name

              Sure. To the extent that her point is that do-gooder bleeding-heart Hippies (like me) can be annoying and bumbling sometimes, it’s hard for me to disagree with her. To the extent that it’s “all men are evil for trying to save individuals instead of working to overthrow global patriarchy,” it’s puerile and naive. To the extent that it’s “Kristof is a jerk for caring,” she’s like Rush Limbaugh criticizing Sean Penn.

              • Lee

                Yeah, I’m with Joe with this. Augustin’s problem and those with similar views comes from viewing the world through purely ideological lenses. When everything has to been in light of a particular ideolgy, things that are good or at least neutral could come across as evil. There is a danger to ideologizing everything.

                There is also a divide between people incapable of dealing with small, individualized goods. Like I pointed out bellow, freeing one woman from sex slavery doesn’t do much for the majority of sex slaves but it means a great deal to the woman freed. Some people seem to have a problem with this. They take the position that if you can’t free every woman trapped in sex slavery than you shouldn’t free one. Its an incredibly stupid but oddly widespread view of the world.

                • Name

                  Yeah, it reminds me of that story about the little kid throwing starfish back in the ocean when there are thousands of them washed up on the beach. When his father tells him it doesn’t matter because there are thousands that will die, the boy replies, “It matters to that one.”

          • Furious Jorge

            When right-wingers made the same point mocking Sean Penn for taking his boat into NOLA to save isolated people from Hurricane Katrina, people thought they were assholes; but when this woman dedicates herself to the same level of ad hominem mockery of someone she doesn’t even know on the basis of her feminist purism that helps no one anywhere achieve anything, I’m supposed to take her seriously?

            Sean Penn shoulda thought of that before he didn’t get his Ph.D. in Anthropology.

      • Eleanor

        I suspect that the central problem is that a *she* criticized the nice mens and mocked them for their knight in shining armor costumes. You know, Eric, the ladies are not supposed to snark like that, even when discussing lazy, self-aggrandizing authors who can’t be arsed to pay the slightest attention to what people who have spent years studying the same phenomenon have to say, and yet magically produce non-sourced simple minded solutions that nobody ever thought of before! Just reduce demand! That ought to work!

        Prostitution, sex work, trafficking and sex-slavery are all loaded terms that have been the subject of both passionate debate and lots of studies – multiple dueling studies. Augstin’s review lays into Kara for his apparent utter ignorance of all of that in favor of making himself and his disgust for what he views as base male demand for purchased sex a central part of his book. How rude of her to point that out, and then mock him in her blog.

        • DrDick

          Indeed. I think some of her rhetoric is a tad over the top, but Kristof is also a bit too pleased with himself and his noble enterprise, despite never addressing the underlying causes.

          • Jon H

            “but Kristof is also a bit too pleased with himself and his noble enterprise, despite never addressing the underlying causes.”

            Well, apart from writing about them in the New York Times, which is his job.

            In fact, a typical reporter would *just* write about the problem, and might well be lauded and praised for doing so, without having much tangible effect on the ground.

            At least Kristof isn’t stopping at that.

            • Tybalt

              It seems to me that many here would rather he not report on the problem at all, and simply interview some anthropologists about the issue.

              Others seem to be denying the existence of the problem altogether. Or at least, the ability of white male non-academics to identify one.

        • joe from Lowell

          I suspect that the central problem is that a *she* criticized the nice mens and mocked them for their knight in shining armor costumes

          I suspect that this is a dodge, meant to make the refusal to engage with the arguments people are making sound virtuous.

          • Eleanor

            What arguments? Seriously – what arguments are people making here with what Augustin wrote? No where did she say it was a bad thing to rescue people trapped in horrible situations.

            She did write that the tradition of men *writing about themselves or other men rescuing women from bad situations* is an old one that obscures power, patriarchy and women’s agency altogether, leaving women with only one role to play in the story – that of rescued victim. (In the annals of men writing about rescuing women from sex work – which is a tradition at least 170 years old – there turn out of have been a lot ‘rescued women’ who were really, really pissed by the way they were ‘rescued’ – not that this is central to Augustin’s point in this blog entry, but I’m sure she’s aware of all that.)

            I’m honestly a bit surprised that this is in any way a remarkable or surprising observation to any readers here, either about the chivalric tradition as a literary trope or about men who get involved in combating sex work. This is an *old* critique – dating back to the men who did similar stuff – and wrote about it in remarkably similar ways – in the 1830s, and again in the 1870s-1910s. Kristoff himself has been getting versions of this criticism of his rescue work for *years*.

            • joe from Lowell

              What arguments? Seriously?

              You know that everyone who read your comment, in which express bafflement at the notion that people are making arguments, can also read all of the arguments that people made earlier than your comment, right?

              I’m honestly a bit surprised that this is in any way a remarkable or surprising observation to any readers here

              It’s not. Why you go back over the arguments that people didn’t make, and see if you can figure out what they’re not saying.

        • Dave

          “the ladies are not supposed to snark like that”

          That’s pretty close to a feminist Godwin, or maybe a Poe. I mean, come on, we were at least trying to have a discussion here, and you step in with ‘it’s because she’s a woman!’

          • Eleanor

            What discussion?

            All I see here are versions of “how dare she say it doesn’t make a difference to rescue sex slaves, one woman at a time! It does too makes a difference to each individual woman!11!11!!11” – which, you know, isn’t something Augstin said.

            What she did do was point out that authors like Kara, or in her one off intro, Kristoff, make much of themselves in their own writing as heroes rescuing poor women from poor men. And that someone else who wrote in to complain that she wrote a negative review of Kara’s work compared them to Don Quixote…. so from there she riffed on the chivalric tradition and why it’s a poor frame for dealing with sex work.

            Which has led to readers here calling her a piece of shit and a an ideologue and someone who desires to see poor women raped in sex slavery rather than work with those seeking to rescue sex slaves.

            That isn’t a discussion.

            • MPAVictoria

              “piece of shit”

              Citation most definitely needed you parody of a feminist you.

              • Eleanor

                Joe from Lowell at 10:38 am:

                What a disgraceful human being. This p.o.s. is more concerned with Kristoff’s gender and color, and with advancing a canned narrative, than with women who are enslaved and raped. I love the use of “called.” They’re all just happy hookers, and if you don’t agree, you’re the sexist.

                • MPAVictoria

                  Ah. I searched for the actual term not pos. I stand corrected.
                  You are still a horrible parody of a feminist though. :-)

                • Eleanor

                  It would be more fun to be a parodist, that’s sure.

                  Instead I have to acknowledge being the real thing – a humorless, middle aged college professor of women’s studies. I didn’t take my husband’s name, I find shaving my legs tedious and avoid it most of the year, and every now and then I give in to my desire to troll posts on LGM. You know. Because it’s amusing to watch the straw burn. ;-)

            • Furious Jorge

              That isn’t a discussion.

              It was until you showed up.

              • joe from Lowell

                It’s not a discussion, because some people are saying things* to other people, which she doesn’t agree with.

                *which are not arguments, dammit.

            • joe from Lowell

              What discussion?

              Troll.

            • Jon H

              “What she did do was point out that authors like Kara, or in her one off intro, Kristoff, make much of themselves in their own writing as heroes rescuing poor women from poor men”

              So it’d all be okay if only they wrote about it bashfully? If an interviewer had to drag it out of them?

              • Eleanor

                Your take may be different than mine, but I suspect she would suggest that they don’t write about themselves at all. If their interest is in women sex workers, then those women and their voices and their choices and their strategies and their work for reform and/or redress should be the focus of such stories. But, I think Augustin is clear about that, especially her h-net review of Kara.

      • Name

        That man was not Kristof. That man was a man defending Kristof. So she’s attacking Kristof, then conflating him with a guy who came along to defend him.

        I compare her critique to a critique of Batman fighting the Joker because that’s about how seriously I think it deserves to be taken. If you like, I could compare it to someone who thinks throwing the Ring into Mount Doom to stop Sauron isn’t serious enough about the endemic and perpetual problem of orc rampages.

        Or, if you insist on real-world examples, we could compare her to someone who says that John Brown didn’t do enough to stop slavery and he was a jerk because he was clearly only trying out of a sense of white male privilege. Or that Sean Penn was a jerk because he saved some people from Hurricane Katrina while doing nothing to stop hurricanes or fix NOLA’s levees. Or, really, any snide, inane, condescendingly smug criticism by someone who does NOTHING of people who do SOMETHING.

  • Lee

    Augustin’s point is generally right, freeing individual women here and there from sex slavery does nothing to stop the practice of sex slavery in general. To do that you need all sorts of structural changes to the society and economy of countries where sex slavery exists.

    At the same time, being freed from sex slavery does mean a great deal to the individual women who are freed from it. The Underground Railroad didn’t do much to end slavery in general but it did mean a great deal to the slaves that it managed to liberate. The same thing goes with sex slavery. When fighting against it, one should attempt to rescure individual slaves as well as undermine the system in general. One doesn’t preclude the other. It didn’t for slavery in the States and it doesn’t for sex slavery in the present.

    Kristoff could write more about the need for general reform of societies where sex slavery exists than individual rescue stories. However, Kristoff is probably aware that writing about individual stories moves people more than the need for general reform. It gets them to talk about the issues, maybe even give some money to organizations battling sex slavery.

    My main problem with Kristoff is that he thinks that one could achieve general reform simply by educating and empowering women within the socieities where sex slavery flouriches. However, it is also important to educate boys into relating to girls and women in a non-sexist fashion to really go after it. You need to change the attitudes of boys and men and increase the opportunities available for girls and women.

    • DrDick

      And you need to educate those men and boys here in the US and the other developed countries, as they are the prime drivers in this industry. Sex tourism is a multibillion dollar in Thailand alone.

      • Lee

        Yes, this is very true. Its probably best if we can devise some sort of punishment for people from developed countries that engage in sex tourism in undeveloped countries.

        • DrDick

          I am not sure that punishment, other than perhaps public shaming, is really useful in this context, but certainly educating boys and men not to be colonialist misogynists would be a good start.

          • Lee

            I can’t even think of a way to practicaly implement a punishment for sex tourism. The burden on the Prosecutors would be immense. Still, educating people (mainly boys/men but a few girls/women to) not to engage in sex tourism is a good start. It will not work out perfectly but should discourage a few.

        • Dave

          Cutting their dicks off would be a start. Though what you do about middle-aged white women who travel to Africa and the Caribbean to be banged by beach bums is a slightly trickier question.

          • Lee

            Its also debatable if the form of sex tourism committed by middle aged white women in Africa and the Carribean is as exploitive as the type done in SE Asia and elsewhere by boys and men from developed countries.

            • DrDick

              Don’t forget Belize, which is a major destination for this.

              • LeeEsq

                Belize’s coast is on the Caribbean sea, no?

                • DrDick

                  True, but “Caribbean” generally references the islands rather than the mainland coast.

                • elm

                  CARICOM would like to have a word with you DrDick! (Less snarkily, Belize self-identifies as a Carribean country.)

  • Jamie

    The line that really stood out for me was that she “doesn’t believe in nasty men who take advantage of women.” The implication seems to be that all differences in male behavior towards women can be accounted for by differences in economic status. Obviously, economic status is a factor.

    But the idea that there are no “nasty men” who prey on women is ridiculous. There are frat boys from upper class families who are rapists, and there are frat boys from upper class families who aren’t. Similarly, there are poor brown men who are sex slavers, and poor brown men who aren’t.

    • Similarly there are men who THINK they aren’t preying on women when they are.

      • Jamie

        Absolutely.

    • Hogan

      Do you mean this comment? Because what she actually says is the opposite of that.

      • Jamie

        I re-read and took the same meaning from it. But I could be missing something. Care to explain?

        • Hogan

          Copied and pasted:

          apart from dragons and giants, i don’t disbelieve in the existence then and now of nasty men who take advantage of weaker women.

          “Don’t disbelieve,” not “don’t believe.”

          • DrDick

            Seemed pretty clear to me when I followed your link earlier.

            • I’d think it would be, unless you’re predisposed to think the worst of her.

              • Jamie

                Ouch, well that is awkward. Never mind, then.

                • Good on you, Jamie. I hope you stick around.

    • Jon H

      I suspect there are women who are in charge of brothels staffed with enslaved women.

      So it’s not just men preying on women.

      • DrDick

        Many, many of them. Most of the recruiters in SE Asia (including the ones involved in actual slavery) are also women.

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  • Matt McKeon

    A good way to think about this is the struggle against slavery in 19th century America.

    The Underground Railroad and efforts to assist fugitive slaves could be the equivalent of the “white knights” rescuing women from sex slavery. The Underground Railroad freed small numbers of people, did only a limited amount to assist them once freed. Slavery was never going to be abolished through the efforts of the UGRR. But it had a tremendous influence in ending slavery.

    Instead of questioning each others’ motives, why can’t we work to address social problems, understanding that individual efforts can get the ball rolling.

    • Lee

      Because some people view other people’s motives as part of the problem in addressing social problems. In this case, Augustin is arguing that the “knight in shining” armor routine done by Kristof and company hinders finding a solution to the larger problem because the chilvaric mindset comes from the same patriarchal foundation as the mindset that allows such exploitation of women.

      In a different context, a Marxist might view the person that tries to alievate hunger through soup kitchens as coming from the same sort of mindset that creates a need for soup kitchens in the first place. A proper way to deal with hunger would destroy the society that allows for the unfair distribution of food and create a fair one.

      If your ultimate goal is more a equitable and egalitarian society than you are not really likely to view half-measures with kindness.

      • DrDick

        Augustin is arguing that the “knight in shining” armor routine done by Kristof and company hinders finding a solution to the larger problem

        As I said upthread, there is some actual evidence to support this assertion.

        • Tybalt

          Could you cite it? I find this interesting though dubious. Personal reportage seems to me a powerful tool to raise awareness, it would be odd if this were counterproductive.

          • DrDick

            I have no complaints about Kristof shedding light on this issue, though I find his framing problematic, and agree that reporting on it helps. The problem is where the effort and resources are going, which is mostly toward these kinds of “rescue” efforts, with little effort going to addressing the larger, long term issues. There are some programs, and they seem to be increasing somewhat, to address the larger issues and provide alternatives for these young women, but they do not get any publicity and are often poorly funded. They also face significant opposition from powerful entrenched interests in the countries involved.

            • Tybalt

              Sure. I can see all of this happening. Can you guide me to the evidence? When you have time, obviously.

              • DrDick

                I do not have a summary source on this. It is simply my estimation of what kinds of programs are in place (or at least those that get publicized) from my research on the subject. Pretty much all the literature talks about the rescue operations and little else, though they do mention some other programs involved in giving the young women skills to make a living in other ways and to add value to them in their families and communities.

  • Matt McKeon

    I don’t think its an either/or proposition. It should be hand in hand. If you’re trying to effect change in the real world.

  • Kiwanda

    Here’s an earlier discussion of the “black victim”/”white savior” issue with Kristof, somewhat parallel to the one discussed here.

    Kristof writes here about this “white reporter’s burden”. He sometimes includes those “western saviors” because such columns get more attention from readers than ones where there is no one as easy to identify with.

    DrDick:

    The available research indicates that the vast majority of sex workers in Thailand, a major hub for this activity and actual sex slavery, are in the business more-or-less voluntarily (they have the option of leaving).

    That may well be true, but it wasn’t true for
    Srey Neth or Srey Mom, the women that Kristof bought and freed.

    • DrDick

      I explicitly said upthread that freeing women in sexual bondage is a good thing, but totally insufficient. My point, as well as that of Augustin, is that the issue of the sex trade and sex trafficking is complicated and reducing it to “good white men need to rescue poor helpless brown women” does not do much to help.

      • Tybalt

        “I explicitly said upthread that freeing women in sexual bondage is a good thing, but totally insufficient.”

        Insufficient for what?

        • DrDick

          To solve the problem or even make much of a dent in it. There are literally thousands of women enslaved in Thailand alone and hundreds of thousands involved in the sex trade.

      • Kiwanda

        You don’t seem to have read the the first two paragraphs of my comment. I don’t think Kristof is under any illusions about the enormity of the problem, and the insufficiency of single gestures, or simple “rescue”. He doesn’t seem to be an idiot completely lacking in self-awareness. He’s not the one reducing other people to stereotypes.

        My only point about Seth Mom and Srey Neth is that they, at least, were not among the sex workers who regret their lost wages due to Kristof’s interference. No, freeing them is not enough.

        • DrDick

          Actually, IIRC, one of them did in fact return to prostitution (something I seem to recall from one of his follow up columns). I do not deny that this can help some women, though only a small portion of those affected. I have read his columns on the subject, so am familiar with his framing. I think he needs to do more to highlight the larger issues and the efforts to address those, rather than focusing on the

          • Eleanor

            Here is Kristoff’s follow up reporting on the two girls he rescued in 2003/4. As of 2005 – the last time he appears to have written about them, he reported that one was thriving in beauty school, the other had returned to prostitution.

            http://www.racematters.org/leavingbrothelbehind.htm

            http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/22/opinion/22kristof.html

            It looks like Srey Neth has gone on to become involved in rescue work herself, and become something of an activist – assuming it’s the same young woman. She’s the right age, and has the same name, but in her telling of her own story she doesn’t mention Kristoff, and doesn’t mention beauty school…. so, I’m not sure it really is the same person.

            http://www.unboundmovement.org/event-updates/srey-neth/

            http://www.viewchange.org/videos/srey-neth-victim-to-survivor

            Someone upthread asked how to tell the stories of the victims of sex trafficking without centering the figure of the rescuerer – the video is a good example, whether or not its the same young woman from Kristoff’s story.

            • Kiwanda

              So DrDick and I agree, and likely Kristof too, that rescue is good, but not enough and not always helpful, and that more attention should be paid to larger issues.

              But Kristof, in attempting to draw greater attention to these issues by including in his stories people who are white, or Western, or male, is an awful human being, it seems.

              The video from viewchange.org (couldn’t view the one at unboundmovement) was very powerful.

              But I assume DrDick would find it counterproductive: it discusses rescue, and does not address systemic issues. Also, surely Laura Agustin would condemn that awful “white knight” James, who had the temerity to act as (in her words) Srey Neth’s “second father”, and help her get anti-retroviral drugs.

  • Kiwanda

    Dammit, I must’ve opened a new block quote when I meant to close an old one, sorry.

  • I didn’t realise you’d had this discussion in two places. This is what I commented at the other: I’ve been a researcher in the field of migration, the sex industry and trafficking since before the word trafficking was used 20 years ago. I have a book called Sex at the Margins which many people find useful in wading through the complexities of these issues, as well as many published articles. Most of it is on my website. I invented the term Rescue Industry some years ago to describe a very wide phenomenon, and this term has been picked up by many. As for my blog, it’s the place where I muse about particular points and people – more often issues than individuals, and I certainly don’t think individuals are at fault for the whole shebang. All the background, all the nuances are missing from any blog post, so if someone drops suddenly I can see why they might find the tone off-putting or miss the point. Because many of the readers of my blog are insiders in the field, I am often talking to them, but at the same time I try to be as clear as possible about the general issues. It seems that criticising Mr Kristof gets a lot of people annoyed, but to me he is just one more character in a wide social phenomenon. I was asked to review Mr Kara’s book for an academic network, but I am not an academic, nor a journalist: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=35320

    This is a Counterpunch piece highlighting Kristof: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/27/sex-trafficking/

    I had to laugh at being called a radical feminist – they _really_ don’t like me! Anyway I am glad to see the debate. Anyone who wants to know more, please drop by my website: http://www.lauraagustin.com

    Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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