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This assignment is to write a review of an academic article related to social movements. This will
give you practice in summarizing and critically assessing academic texts.
2 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1 inch page margins
List the bibliographic information about the article you are reviewing in American Sociological
Association reference page format:
Underneath this reference, write your review, including:

Topic of article
Contribution to a broader field of research (What is the ‘gap’ in the literature? Which
other theories/thinkers/researchers is it in dialogue with?)

Data source and methods (Qualitative or quantitative? For example: content
analysis, surveys, interviews, social network analysis)

Main claims or findings
Implications of the research (What does the article invite us to do with the
information it has presented? What are the practical implications of the article for policy or
activism? If the implications are theoretical, does it suggest where further research needs to
be done?)

Your assessment of the article (What do the authors do well? What is lacking? Do you
agree/disagree with their findings or claims?)
elizabeth bernstein
The Sexual Politics of the “New Abolitionism”
n Sunday, February 18, 2007, 5,800 Protestant churches
throughout the United States sang the song “Amazing Grace” during their
services, commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition
of slavery in England. As the congregants sang the lyrics of John Newton,
the British ship captain turned abolitionist, they were simultaneously contributing to a growing political movement and to the promotion of a justreleased film. The film, Amazing Grace, which focuses on the role played
by British parliamentarian William Wilberforce’s evangelical Christian
faith in his dedication to the nineteenth-century abolitionist cause, was
produced in explicit coordination with a campaign to combat “modern
day” forms of slavery, of which the organized Sunday sing-along was a
part (Virgil). “Slavery still exists,” notes the movie’s Amazing Change
campaign Web site, which directs Web-browsers to “become modern-day
abolitionists” through prayer, donations to sponsored faith-based organizations, and the purchase of Amazing Change t-shirts, buttons, and caps.
As Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (one of the
campaign’s four sponsored humanitarian organizations) has sought to
Volume 18, Number 3 doi 10.1215/10407391-2007-013
© 2007 by Brown University and
d i f f e r e n c e s : A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies
Published by Duke University Press
d i f f e r e n c e s
emphasize, “[T]here are approximately twenty-seven million slaves in our
world today—not metaphorical slaves, but actual slaves. That’s more slaves
in our world today than were extracted from Africa during four hundred
years of the transatlantic slave trade” (Terrify 21).
What does it mean to say that there are twenty-seven million
slaves worldwide, more than in the transatlantic slave trade? The figure
of twenty-seven million is frequently invoked by the broad coalition of
evangelical Christian and secular feminist activists, nongovernmental
organizations, and state agents who, since the late 1990s, have self-identified as “modern-day abolitionists” in their struggle to combat what they
see as a diverse yet intertwined array of human rights abuses, one which
ranges from trafficking across borders to indentured labor in rock quarries to participation in some (or all) forms of commercial sexual activity.
Although the trope of “modern-day slavery” and the numerical estimate
of twenty-seven million derive from the work of Free the Slaves founder
Kevin Bales, who has defined slavery as “the total control of one person
by another for the purpose of economic exploitation” (6), what the disparate abolitionist groups (or even Bales himself) mean by the term when
they invoke it is by no means transparent.1 How, for example, is “modernday” slavery distinct from chattel slavery, wage slavery, or what was once
known as White Slavery? Of what, for the various activists and state agents
concerned, does the fight against modern-day slavery consist? Who is a
slave? And how does the movement for slavery’s (re-)abolition relate to a
contemporary evangelical worldview? Or to neoliberal cultural politics
more generally?
I come to these queries via a particular ethnographic circuitry,
one that, over the course of the last decade, has led me from the sociological study of sex work toward the study of the growing cadre of evangelical
Christian and secular feminist humanitarian projects that have emerged to
reclassify all or certain forms of sexual labor as “slavery,” to press for laws
that punish the individuals who are deemed responsible for this captivity,
and to vigorously pursue sex workers’ rescue. Before assuming this current
research focus, I spent nearly a decade investigating the highly diverse
motives and experiences of women, men, and transgendered people who
engage in sexual labor in postindustrial cities. I have also spent many
years as a participant-observer of sex workers’ own organizing efforts to
address some of the manifold injustices that affect sex workers locally and
globally, including violence at the hands of police officers, the absence of
labor regulations in illicit as well as legal commercial sex sectors, and
Published by Duke University Press
The Sexual Politics of the “New Abolitionism”
the threat of deportation that looms large over undocumented workers
While in the early and mid-1990s such struggles were typically
pursued under the culturally and politically ascendant banner of “sex
workers’ rights,” in more recent years this framework has been undercut
by a bevy of federal- and state-level antitrafficking laws that equate all
prostitution with the crime of human trafficking and that rhetorically
capture both of these activities under the rubric of modern slavery. During his three-and-a-half-year tenure in the u.s. State Department’s Office
to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Ambassador John Miller was highly
attuned to the political importance of linguistic frames, arguing that the
ongoing use of the term “sex worker” by certain ngos, activists, and feminist academics served “to justify modern-day slavery, [and] to dignify the
perpetrators and the industries who enslave.”2 The spate of u.s. antitrafficking laws that have emerged to create an enforcement apparatus for
Miller’s view create stepped-up criminal penalties for pimps and sexual
clients (considered by modern abolitionists to be slaveholders), impose
financial sanctions upon nations deemed to be taking insufficient steps
to stem prostitution (understood to be self-identical with trafficking and
with slavery), and stipulate that internationally based ngos that do not
explicitly denounce prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights
are to be disqualified from federal funding. 3 Although the u.s. Trafficking
Victims’ Protection Act (tvpa) officially defines the crime of human trafficking to include forced labor as well as forced sex (where the latter is
understood to be categorically distinct from the former) in terms of current
u.s. enforcement priorities, media attention, and ngo practice, the forced
prostitution of women and girls constitutes the paradigmatic instance of
what “modern-day slavery” is assumed to be. 4
My aim in this essay is to consider how it is that prostitution,
something previously of concern only to local law enforcement and to
relatively small numbers of committed feminists and sex-worker activists,
has come to occupy the center of an ever spiraling array of faith-based and
secular activist agendas, human rights initiatives, and legal instruments.
Given that the perspectives of abolitionist feminists and their partnership
with conservative state agents have begun to be analyzed and critiqued
elsewhere, 5 my focus in this essay will rest upon the less frequently examined (and usually presumed to be self-evident) ideological commitments
of evangelical Christians. Evangelical advocacy on human trafficking has
Published by Duke University Press
d i f f e r e n c e s
achieved particular prominence since the Bush administration’s “charitable choice” initiative declared avowedly faith-based organizations to
be eligible for federal funding; since 2001, the year of its implementation,
evangelical Christian groups have secured a growing proportion of federal
monies for both international and domestic antitrafficking work as well
as funds for the prevention of hiv/aids (Butler; Mink; Stockman et al.).
Drawing upon my ongoing ethnographic research with prominent conservative Christian antitrafficking groups, as well as a review of relevant
policy documents and press coverage, in this essay I consider the means
by which evangelical activists have successfully formed and perpetuated
political alliances around a particular shared premise: that prostitution is
a form of gendered social exchange that constitutes the literal antithesis
of freedom. 6
No doubt, the globalization, expansion, and diversification of
sexual commerce in recent decades have been relevant factors in fostering this consensus. Indeed, the first few sentences of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act explicitly state that the explosion of the sex
industry during the last decade was an important impetus for the law. Yet
the position of cultural and political prominence that has been granted to
prostitution in contemporary Christian narratives of slavery (and to the
forced sexual labor of the “third-world prostitute,” in particular) remains
puzzling given that the issue presumably exists at some remove from the
lives of the overwhelmingly white and middle-class activists who embrace
it as their cause. The portrayal of most or all prostitution as “slavery” is also
curious given the actual working conditions of most sex workers. Although
it would be foolish to deny that situations of force and coercion can and
do occur in sex work (as they do in other informal and unregulated labor
sectors) and are no doubt exacerbated by the compounded inequalities of
race, class, gender, and nation that prevail in many instances, reputable
accounts by sex-worker activists and by researchers, including those based
in the third world, suggest that the scenarios of overt abduction, treachery,
and coercion that abolitionists depict are the exception rather than the
norm.7 Given the distance of forced prostitution from activists’ own lives
and from the experiences of the majority of the individuals who engage
in sexual labor, we will need to summon other explanations if we are to
comprehend the significance of the campaign to “free the slaves” that is
spreading through church pews, college campuses, and federal and state
legislatures at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Published by Duke University Press
The Sexual Politics of the “New Abolitionism”
From White Slavery to
Modern Day Slavery
It is slavery, real slavery that we are
fighting. The term “white slave” isn’t a
misnomer or a sensational term. [. . .]
The words describe what they stand for.
The white slave of Chicago is a slave as
much as the Negro was before the Civil
War, as the African is in the districts of
the Congo, as much as any people are
slaves who are owned, flesh and bone,
body and soul, by another person, and
who can be sold at any time and place
and for any price at that person’s will.
That is what slavery is, and that is the
condition of hundreds, yes, thousands
of girls in Chicago at present.
—Clifford Roe, The Shame of a Great
Nation 1909, qtd. in Rosen 117.
Of course, the sudden and dramatic refashioning of commercialized sex as slavery is not without historical precedent. Various commentators have noted the similarities between the moral panic surrounding “modern-day slavery” in the current moment and that of the White
Slavery scare in the last century, which engaged a similar coalition of “new
abolitionist” feminists and evangelical Christians (Hobson; Rosen; SmithRosenberg). Prior to the Progressive era, the goal of eradicating prostitution
had not seemed particularly urgent: as the historian Ruth Rosen has shown,
u.s. religious leaders had previously been far more inclined to worry about
adultery and fornication than about prostitution. By the beginning of the
twentieth century, however, narratives of women’s sexual enslavement
abounded, drawing upon both the nation’s legacy of race-based, chattel
slavery and a resonance with biblical notions of “slavery to sin.” Such
narratives conjured scenarios of seemingly irrefutable moral horror: the
widespread abduction of innocent women and girls who, en route to earn
respectable livelihoods in metropolitan centers, were seduced, deceived,
or forced into prostitution, typically by foreign-born men. Historians have
generally agreed that, in association with a rising tide of anti-immigrant
sentiment, the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century fight against
White Slavery served as a socially acceptable vehicle in which bourgeois
women could channel their frustrations with the sexual double standard
and an increasingly legitimate commercial sexual sphere. For both evangelical women and for feminists, the fight against White Slavery served
as a useful stepping stone and surrogate for a host of additional causes,
from social purity and moral reform to temperance and suffrage. Though
subsequent empirical investigations would reveal the White Slavery narrative to be largely without factual base (the evidence suggested that large
numbers of women were not in fact forced into prostitution, other than by
Published by Duke University Press
d i f f e r e n c e s
economic considerations), anti–White Slave crusaders were nevertheless
successful in spurring the passage of a series of “red light abatement” acts
as well as the federal Mann-Elkins White Slavery Act, which officially
brought the nation’s first era of wide-scale, commercialized prostitution
to a close. 8
Various contemporary critics have observed the extent to which
the tropes that animated the moral panic around White Slavery in the last
century have been recycled in campaigns against “modern-day slavery”
in the current one, including those of violated femininity, shattered innocence, and the victimization of “womenandchildren.”9 Penelope Saunders
thus notes that it is precisely such shared ideological constructions that
have served to unite the diverse constituencies that comprise today’s
modern-day abolitionist cause. As Saunders argues, for both conservative Christians and for many feminists, “archaic and violated visions of
femininity and sexuality [. . .] tap into widely held beliefs about the harms
women face due to their sexual vulnerability” (“Traffic Violations” 355).
Jacqueline Berman has similarly postulated that “shared views of sexuality [. . .] and universalist constructions of woman” have served to facilitate the strong alliance between conservative Christians and abolitionist
feminists that, as in the two groups’ prior alliance against pornography
during the Reagan years,10 undergirds the current antitrafficking policies
of the u.s. state (272). Berman posits that, for conservative Christians, stopping sexual slavery stands as a politically uncontroversial surrogate for
an array of more familiar, right-wing concerns: advocacy around family
values, the promotion of abstinence, and “the rescue of women from risky,
post-1960s norms like work outside the home” (276). Gretchen Soderlund
has also observed the dovetailing of right-wing efforts to curb prostitution and to curtail women’s reproductive rights, arguing that current u.s.
antitrafficking policy is “deeply intertwined with attempts by the Bush
administration and its faith-based constituency to police nonprocreative
sex on a global scale” (79).
The roster of prominent nongovernmental organizations that
have catapulted the fight against sexual slavery to the top of their agendas
indeed suggests that a sexual politics premised upon the reinstatement
of traditional sex and gender roles underlies the attention that many conservative Christians have granted to the issue. Alongside established and
expected feminist constituencies such as the Coalition against Trafficking in Women, now, and the Feminist Majority stand such well-known
Christian-right groups as Focus on the Family, the Family Research
Published by Duke University Press
The Sexual Politics of the “New Abolitionism”
Council, and Concerned Women for America, an extraordinary left-right
alliance that political scientist Alan Hertzke has gone so far as to describe
as “the most significant human rights movement of our time” (6).11 Some
of my own initial field research with conservative Christian antitrafficking activists would also seem to bolster the conclusion that there is a
traditionalist sexual and gender agenda at stake in fighting “modern-day
slavery” that extends well beyond the issues of trafficking and prostitution. For example, at a Concerned Women for America “antitrafficking”
panel that I attended at the u.n. Beijing Plus Ten meetings in 2005, which
occurred immediately after the group received a grant from the u.s. State
Department to combat trafficking on the u.s.-Mexico border, the presentation focused exclusively upon the perils posed to women by abortion
and premarital sex, with prostitution only mentioned once—and briefly—
during the two-hour session. The chairwoman Janice Crouse responded to
an audience question about the phenomenon of human trafficking not by
discussing trafficking per se, but by talking about the risks of promiscuity
(and implicitly prostitution) faced by teenage girls at the mall. Observers
of conservative Christian engagement in the abortion debates of the 1980s
will also note the direct migration of language and slogans from earlier
campaigns to curtail women’s access to abortion, which similarly relied
upon the metaphors of slavery, rescue, and abolition to generate passion
and commitment for their cause (Balmer; Beisel and Krimmell).
The dovetailing of the antitrafficking movement and of a traditionalist sexual and gender politics is further manifest in publications
such as Focus on the Family and Today’s Christian Woman, which, along
with several other evangelical Christian popular magazines published
during a single three-month period last winter, featured lead articles on
the “record numbers” of women being trafficked into commercial sexual
slavery.12 According to one such article, coerced abortions, family and
sexual violence, biotechnology, human trafficking, and prostitution form
the cluster of socially intertwined phenomena that place women’s lives at
greatest risk. Affirming the conclusions of scholars such as Marie Griffith,
Linda Kintz, and Christian Smith who have described how evangelical
women find “power in submission” to traditional gender roles and male
“headship,” here it is modern sexual culture and technology that constitute the fundament of slavery, and traditional sex and gender roles that
best encapsulate what it means for women to be “free.” As Berman has
Published by Duke University Press
d i f f e r e n c e s
In a globalizing world where women make decisions about
illicit sexuality, capital, and movement in relation to prostitution, work, sex …
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