Yes, trafficking is bad for sex workers. But “getting tough on traffickers” can make their lives worse.

This week in North Philly Notes, Carisa Showden and Samantha Majic, co-authors of Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S., write about the importance of listening to sex workers, and not just passing laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers.

Through newspaper stories, popular films, and Dateline exposés (to name just some sources), the term “sex trafficking” is now commonplace, bringing to mind images and stories of young girls trapped in vans and sold for sex in strange and dark places. These ideas about sex trafficking have informed public policy in the U.S. and internationally: local, regional, and national governments, as well as international governing bodies, have supported and passed laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers and other parties who fuel this crime. Yet despite these laws, those they are supposed to help are also often their most vocal critics.

This disconnect between the ideas about an issue and its related policy outcomes is not unique to sex trafficking, but recent legal changes make interrogating this gap particularly urgent. The 2018 Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) (SESTA/FOSTA) provides a recent example of popular narratives trumping evidence. By making website publishers responsible for third parties who post ads for prostitution, SESTA/FOSTA effectively renders illegal the websites that sex workers use to sell services, screen clients, and warn other sex workers about dangerous clients. SESTA/FOSTA is based on the idea that persons in the sex industry are there against their will (trafficked), and that websites only enable their victimization.

Sex workers resisted this characterization, arguing mightily, but unsuccessfully, against  SESTA/FOSTA, and the effects have been immediate. For example, out of fear of violating the law, many sex workers started “preemptively closing sex work-related Facebook groups, … talking about taking down bad date lists, etc.,” all of which were essential to their safety and security. In another example, Backpage immediately shut down its dating and related ad services. With Backpage gone, some sex workers have returned to the streets and law enforcement receives fewer tips from online activity, making the tracking of actual trafficking more difficult. As Notre Dame Law Professor Alex F. Levy writes, “Backpage sets a trap for traffickers: lured by the prospect of reaching a large, centralized repository of customers, traffickers end up revealing themselves to law enforcement and victim advocates. There’s nothing to suggest that Backpage causes them to be victimized, but plenty of reason to believe that, without it, they would be much harder to find.” And outside of the U.S., including places like New Zealand where sex work is legal, the disappearance of Backpage “has, without warning, taken livelihoods away, leaving workers without the resources to operate their businesses or, in some cases, survive.”

Youth Who Trade_smNeither the failure to listen to sex workers nor a new law making it harder to fight the very thing it targets is surprising to us, given what we found when researching our book Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S.: Intersectionality, Agency, and Vulnerability. For example, policies that target trafficking of young people take a law-and-order approach, focusing on criminal gangs, “bad men” (pimps), and very young girl victims. But as our research indicates, young people commonly enter the sex trades through a highly variable mix of “self-exploitation,” family exploitation, and peer-recruitment, most frequently to meet their basic needs for shelter and food. And youth who are poor and housing insecure because of racialized poverty and gender discrimination are particularly vulnerable. All people under the age of 18 who sell or trade sex for any reason are defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as trafficking victims, yet most of them are ignored by “get tough on crime” policies. As a result, while we must protect all youth from persons who may harm and exploit them, the majority of young people who trade sex need interventions like housing support that is safe for youth of all genders. And when they are trading sex to afford food or shelter, they need to do this in the least dangerous way possible—something online services facilitated.

The more vulnerable people are, the less likely they are to be listened to, and the more likely they are to be talked about. We saw this in SESTA/ FOSTA, where sex workers and their allies lobbied hard to prevent the bill’s passage. And we see this with youth-specific bills as well. Politicians talk a lot about vulnerable youth in the abstract, but they rarely talk or listen to them directly. Yet sex workers and young people have a lot to say about what works and doesn’t work for helping them survive and improve their lives. Hopefully researchers and policy makers will start to listen to them.

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Alas, poor Luka, alas.

This week in North Philly North, Grant Farred writes about the unlikely connection between Jackie Robinson and Croatian footballer Luka Modrić.

Only sport can properly bring home to us the true meaning of the event. If, that is, we understand the event as a specific happening that completely changes everything. At the very least, the event as such radically alters how we see the world. Over the course of three books on sport and philosophy, of which The Burden of Over-representation, is the most recent, this is the argument I have tried to make.

In its most basic form, the event might be understood as a dramatic last minute touchdown, a penalty opportunity denied, a spectacular catch that saves a game, or, maybe it preserves a World Series win. All these are memorable occasions, ones that change our outlook on the world. Think about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 after more than a century of futility, or the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. For a Cubbies fan, or an Eagles fan, this alters how the world works; no more “wait until next year.”

Burden of Over-rep_smIn The Burden of Over-representation, however, I concentrate on something else. Often, this book recognizes, the event turns on a singular individual, whether or not that individual accepts these terms or not. The fate of a team, for example. Or, as I argue in The Burden of Over-representation, the future of race relations in post-War America depended – or, so it seemed – on baseball’s “great experiment:” the “Negro” player Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball in April, 1947.

Not only in that moment, April 15th, 1947, but for many seasons after, every move Jackie Robinson made, on or off the field, during the season or before it (or, after it, for that matter), assumed a disproportionate importance. Jackie Robinson represented not only himself, but his entire race. What a burden Robinson bore, and how he bore it. With fierceness, with anger, with bitterness, all of which was grounded in a singular determination to win.

I was reminded of how much this notion of the burden is with us this summer, this summer of the World Cup. I was reminded of it because I watched the round of 16 games as well as the quarter-finals in Croatia. The round of 16 games in Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, and the quarter-finals in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

In truth, the enormity of the burden born by the exceptional individual could not have been brought home more forcefully than in Zadar. For those who don’t follow football (soccer), and who don’t know the finer points about the Croatian national team, Zadar is the home of the Croatian captain, Luka Modrić. It would have been enough to know that Modrić grew up poor as a child on the outskirts of Zadar. It would have been a heartwarming tale of local boy makes good, because Modrić is now not only among the most highly regarded players in the name but he is also the captain of his national team. Football has made him a very wealthy man. It would have enough, but also much more disturbing, to have known that Modrić survived the violence of the war that wracked havoc with life in the Balkans in the 1990s. In that war, in which the old Yugoslavia fell apart, splintering into so many competing nationalisms, ethnic Serb fighting ethnic Bosnian, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbians and Bosnian Muslims at each other’s throats. Modrić’s grandfather was killed in, and by, that violence.

Now 32 years old, in what is surely his final World Cup, Modrić bears the burden Croatian over-representation. He has been a massively successful player for his club, Real Madrid, winning a number of trophies – 3 times a Champions League winner, just for starters. In their turn, the Croatians expect him to now bring a much greater glory to “Hvartska.”

Much is expected of his team-mates as well, but, when all is said and done, it is Modrić who will have to shoulder the bulk of the burden.

In the round of 16 game, with the game knotted at a goal apiece, Modrić had a chance to seal the game with a penalty late in the match against Denmark. Uncharacteristically, he seemed a little unsure of himself. He missed, his face a study in disappointment. He had let the team down. His miss might cost Croatia the chance to advance to the quarter-finals. The match went to extra-time, which yielded nothing, and then to a penalty shootout.

Up stepped Modrić, and he converted his penalty this time. Croatia went on to win.

Next up, Russia, in the quarter-finals. Again, the score was tied (1-1) at the end of regulation, and in the extra period the two sides each added a goal. 2-2. Once more the game would be decided by penalties.

Again, Modrić stroked his penalty home.

Croatia won. On Wednesday, it will play England in the semi-finals.

What struck me while watching in Zadar was how revered Modrić is, how he is being made to stand for his nation. This local boy, who is physically small but huge in stature, who has endured so much and achieved even more, he incarnates all Croatia’s (footballing) hopes, he is a bulwark against its fears. His, Modrić’s, failure, will not be his. At least not his alone. No, the entire nation will stand or fall with Luka.

He is not allowed the luxury of a mistake. The nation can’t afford it and so he must perform to perfection.

Croatia, on the football field, for what remains of Croatia’s games this World Cup, is Luka Modrić.

Surrounded by Croatians in Zadar, in Zagreb, watching the crowds in Pula on TV, I suddenly, when I least expected it, got a glimpse, one for which I was not at all prepared, into what life must have been like for Jackie Robinson.

“Football is not a matter of life or death,” the famous Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly remarked, “it is much more important than that.”

Luka Modrić, in Croatia if nowhere else, knows what such expectation – the life or death of a nation, life or death as both metaphor and far more than a metaphor – feels like.

Playing Major League baseball in a moment when blacks were being, were still being, lynched and subjected to Jim Crow laws (as much, if differently, in the North as well as in the South), I suspect that Jackie Robinson, much more than Modrić or Shankly, knew just how much was riding on his every performance. Robinson knew how much depended upon his every hit, his every stolen base, his every routine throw to first base; his every interview with a reporter, his every off-hand comment. No rest for the wicked, or, the just; or, the over-burdened.

Across sports codes, football to baseball, across an ocean that separates the continents of North America and Europe, across the decades that separate Robinson from Modrić, across that contentious divided that is race (and religion, ethnicity, and geo-politics), for just a single moment, my writing seemed to me possessed of a truth.

Not only is sport exceptional in its ability to bring home to us the significance of the event, but it is only through sport that I, at any rate, could glimpse upon Modrić . Or, maybe I should say I could sense, surrounded by expectant, hopeful, fearful, Croatians, the utter viscerality of this truth. Ironically, it was impressed upon me by people who have probably never heard of Jackie Robinson. In victory, so far, Modrić has borne that burden with a smile that is at once joyous and anxious. No wonder, how I wonder. In defeat, especially if he is the one to “fail,” just once (more), I can only imagine the look that followed his penalty miss against Denmark will once again overwhelm his face. In defeat, that is when the onerousness of the burden, perhaps the unjustness of it all, will, I suspect, make itself felt.

For Luka Modrić’s sake, I muttered to myself after Croatia disposed of Russia, I hope he knows who Jackie Robinson is.

Such knowledge, such acquired familiarity, might, if not dispense with the burden, but, in the moment of truth, which is, one way or the other, coming, it might help to lighten the burden. It might even help him to understand why so much is being asked of him. In order to lighten

the burden of over-representation I would want to make a historic, phantasmatic introduction: “Luka Modrić, meet Jackie Robinson.”

In a matter of hours, Wednesday will be upon us.

In that moment, which could well be decisive, I do not want to wax Shakespearean. I do not want to see a Croatian reenactment of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet.

I do not want to utter those fateful words, “Alas, poor Luka, alas.”

 

 

A sneak peek at the new issue of KALFOU

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the new issue of KALFOU, and the symposium on race and science, a highlight of Volume 5 issue 1.

Volume 5 Issue 1 of KALFOU features a symposium on race and science in which distinguished scholars from across the disciplines address the ways in which current developments in genomic research pose new challenges for analyses of the social construction of race. Advances in genetic research have provoked a revival of the claim that race has a genetic basis, a claim that has now been embraced by pharmaceutical companies seeking to make profits by marketing drugs that profess to address illnesses endemic to specific racial groups and by social scientists eager to explain racially skewed life outcomes as the product of the genetic defects of aggrieved groups rather than the result of racist practices, processes, and structures.  The symposium features astute and insightful articles by anthropologists Michael Montoya and John Hartigan, historians Terence Keel and Gabriela Laveaga-Soto, sociologists Ruha Benjamin and James Doucet Battle, and physician and public health scholar Claudia Chaufan.  Although these authors deploy a diverse range of scholarly methods and perspectives, their arguments cohere around an insistence that genetic research itself actually shows that race is a political rather than a biological category and that the “new” arguments about sciences and race are simply reiterations of very old forms of scientific racism.

George Lipsitz

Kalfou_generic-cover_102015Kalfou Vol. 5 Issue 1. Table of Contents:

SYMPOSIUM ON RACE AND SCIENCE • edited by Terence D. Keel and George Lipsitz

Race on Both Sides of the Razor • Terence D. Keel
Facing Up to Neanderthals • John Hartigan Jr.
What Can the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA)
Contribute to Preventing, Treating, or Decreasing the Impact of Diabetes
among Mexicans and Latin Americans? • Claudia Chaufan
Race, Genetics, and Health: Transforming Inequities or Reproducing
a Fallacy? • Michael J. Montoya
Prophets and Profits of Racial Science • Ruha Benjamin
Race and the Epigenetics of Memory • Gabriela Soto Laveaga
Ennobling the Neanderthal: Racialized Texts and Genomic Admixture • James Doucet-Battle
Concluding Remarks: Social Justice Requires Biocritical Inquiry • Terence D. Keel

FEATURE ARTICLE
Feminist Mobilization in MEChA: A Southern California Case Study • Gustavo Licón

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM
TALKATIVE ANCESTORS
Cedric Robinson: “For a People to Survive in Struggle”

LA MESA POPULAR
The Septuagenarians’ Sankofa Dialogue • Kalamu ya Salaam and Jerry W. Ward Jr.

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION
The Play’s the Thing: An Interview with Rosten Woo • J.V. Decemvirale

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT
“It Is Time for Artists to Be Heard”: Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963–1964 • Judith E. Smith

TEACHING AND TRUTH
A UK–US “Black Lexicon of Liberation”: A Bibliography of African American
and Black British Artists, Artworks, and Art-Making Traditions • Celeste-Marie Bernier

IN MEMORIAM
James Oliver Horton, 1943–2017 • Melani McAlister

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