Although IJM’s operations have attracted some controversy, the undercover and mass-media-oriented model of activism that IJM propounds has become the emulated standard for evangelical Christian and secular feminist organizations alike.22 The liberal feminist organization Equality Now, for example, has recently enlisted male volunteers to go undercover to find traffickers and to work with local law enforcement to bring them to trial (Aita 2007). Notably, IJM’s tactics have been hailed both by the Bush Administration and, more recently, by secular humanitarians in the Obama Administration such as Samantha Power. As Power notes in her recent interview with Haugen for the liberal-leaning New Yorker magazine, “Haugen believes that the biggest problem on earth is not too little democracy, or too much poverty … but, rather, an absence of proper law enforcement” (Power 2009, 52). Through IJM’s rescue missions, men are coaxed into participating in women’s and other humanitarian issues by being granted the role of heroic crime fighters and saviors. Unlike in other Christian men’s groups, however, here it is not headship in the domestic enclave of the nuclear family that draws men in but rather the assumption of a leadership role in and against a problem that is global in scope and that requires transnational actors to combat.23
But more than a newly transnationalized middle-class masculinity is at stake here, particularly since the majority of the organization’s grassroots activists—as in antitrafficking campaigns in general—are middle-class young women. In contrast to a previous generation of evangelical Christian activist groups that avowedly embraced sexual and gender traditionalism for Western women, IJM’s members make frequent reference to the backward traditionalism of third-world cultures as one of the primary causes of sex trafficking, a framework that helps them to define and re- inforce their own perceived freedom and autonomy as Western women. In this regard, they follow what Inderpal Grewal (2005, 142) has identified as the contemporary feminist model of human rights activism, produced by subjects who imagine themselves more ethical and free than their “sisters” in the developing world.
The embrace of the third-world trafficking victim as a modern cause thus offers these young evangelical women a means to engage directly in a sex-saturated culture without becoming “contaminated” by it; it provides an opportunity to commune with third-world “bad girls” while remaining first-world “good girls.” Whether by directly entering the third-world brothel or by viewing highly sexualized media portrayals, the issue of trafficking permits a sexualized frame to exist without threatening these women’s own moral status or social position.
Elizabeth Bernstein, Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2010, vol. 36, no. 1, p. 62-63