Slave Hunters, Brothel Busters, and Feminist Interventions: Investigative Journalists as Anti-Sex-Trafficking Humanitarians
Abstract

Abstract:

The article elaborates a critique of current anti-trafficking humanitarianism as it takes form and shape in U.S. investigative journalism. In particular, it focuses on what is called here, following Foucault, the formation of a "popular regime of truth" about sex trafficking, tracing its cultural emergence in nineteenth-century muckraking journalism, its formation and circulation in the twenty-first century, and its current imbrications with U.S. governmental discourses and policies. This regime of truth in investigative journalism, it contends, congeals at the intersection of journalists' affective attachments to women's bodily abjection on the one hand and humanitarian fantasies on the other. The article makes use of feminist film theory and transnational feminist scholarship to show the ways in which the journalistic "truth" about sex trafficking relies on journalists' investment in visual and discursive tropes of excessive emotions, as well as on libidinal attachments to vulnerable bodies. To this end, it offers a close reading of an undercover journalistic operation in Cambodia led by investigative journalist Aaron Cohen. It concludes with an analysis of official U.S.anti-trafficking policies abroad in order to show how current journalistic truth-making claims about sex trafficking enter foreign politics and have a considerable impact on sex workers in the non-Western world.