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Human Trafficking, Prostitution & Militarisms: Framing a discourse of memory, colonization, and decolonial possibilities

By Annie Fukushima

Paper From “Decolonizing the University” Conference, University of California, Berkeley

February 27, 2010

I am a witness to how women's bodies are configured in ongoing colonialisms through militarisms. Where militarisms are naturalized and rendered normal where historical narratives define memories and the forgetting is an absence or a footnote in historical narratives.

I want to take a moment to recognize that coloniality is what Maria Lugones referred to as “an encompassing phenomenon, since it is one of the axes of the system of power and as such it permeates all control of sexual access, collective authority, labor, subjectivity/intersubjectivity and the production of knowledge from within these intersubjective relations.”  To decolonize then, is to work towards a practice that decolonizes the multiple sites within which colonization permeates: everywhere. But, for today, I would like to think deeply about one particular site that of ongoing colonialisms through militarisms.  To do so, I would like to engage with the narratives of colonialisms through militarisms.

As the anti-trafficking movement has gained visibility in the 21st century, a conceptualization of story telling that has developed in the anti-trafficking movement, where the voices of both individuals and a particular collective have developed a particular metanarrative[1] of human trafficking as elsewhere and in the “Third World.” However, storytelling can also be a powerful tool, where as Aida F. Santos sates  the power of a story is how individuals outside of that story are able to connect. In publishing Halfway Through the Circle, Flor Caagusan conveyed that the stories, unfinished stories as life stories in progress, enables readers to see the complexity of individual circumstances and social contexts[2].

I want to share stories of resiliency and an ongoing effort to remember that while the metanarrative of human trafficking has placed it elsewhere, that the significance of place and bodies in those places need to be interrogated to understand human trafficking not as a reductive phenomenon elsewhere, but how the U.S. is very much a part of that process as delineated in ongoing colonialisms of militarisms. These stories are informed by the work that I have done as a scholar-activist.

The first is a story of a woman who worked in a bar in the Philippines: “Betty.” One day she met a couple, a U.S. couple who were visiting the Philippines as tourists, this was the sex tour part of their tourism. The couple told her that they would take her to the U.S. where she wouldn’t have to worry about paying for living and food costs. And that in the U.S. she would have an education. She didn't want to go, but was sold off by her family, for their survival, and what they believed would be hers too. Betty was trafficked into domestic servitude and sexual slavery in the home of the couple, in the Bay Area for two years. She left the situation when she was taken to the hospital where she shared the horrors of her experiences with the doctor.

Now let me tell you another story about another Filipina. “Jill”. Jill was trafficked from Cebu City, the Philippines to a Kunsan club in South Korea. She was told she would be a singer, but instead she found herself in Korea's sex industry at a U.S. military camptown, near Kunsan Airbase. Kunsan is one of the 1,000 U.S. military bases around the world. In South Korea, Pyongtaek and Osan are points of interest for women trafficked due to their U.S. military bases set up. On average, Durebang, a Korean service provider for survivors of human trafficking, supports 200-300 Filipino women ever year. While cases such as Operation Gilded Cage highlighted the trafficking of Koreans to the U.S., the U.S. in Asia has also reinforced systemic trauma.

The reality in storytelling, is that there is no neat narrative of human trafficking. The memories are fragmented, and change as the body, the multiplicity of bodies from the corporeal to the “community”, heals or doesn't. And, while the body may remember, forgetting is also active. How do we build a collective narrative that enables a memory of this deep forgetting? And, beyond the narrative, beyond the stories, the fragments of memories, what is remembered?

And what I remember is that Betty and Jill are more than the trauma that is told in the story, they are resilient, and more than a four sentence narration. But, to know someone's story, the fragments of the memory of their trauma, brings on a particular responsibility as a witness. And that in hearing the stories, there is a commonality between Betty and Jill; it is more than that they are both Filipinas. They are exoticized, eroticized in the U.S. imaginary, both transnationally in tours / R&R stops, in colonials relations that are perpetuated through the tentacles of militarisms. Although Asians constitute only 4% of the US population, there is a demand for Asian / Americans in the U.S. sex industry. Such a demand is not contained within the nation-state borders of the “U.S.” but make its way to occupied territories. This is apparent in their over-representation in advertisements and the number of trafficking cases.

I remember that Jill and Betty are part of a narrative of many. It is estimated that annually 14,500 - 17,000 individuals are trafficked into the U.S. from other countries, 100,000 U.S. minors are trafficked within the U.S. of which, a majority are youth of color, suggesting that there is a particular demand of laboring bodies of color. The numbers do not include the domestic trafficking of adult U.S. citizens in the U.S. or those trafficked into or through U.S. military bases. And the reality is that survivors do not “raise their hands to be counted.”

But if the goal is to move towards a transnational framework, moving beyond numbers, there is a need to interrogate the causes of human trafficking. Gwyn Kirk conveyed that militarisms is a central system that is connected to “all of us.” Like militarisms, human trafficking is defined by historical location, policies, racisms, sexisms, the economy, and ongoing colonialisms through militarisms. And, human trafficking is global phenomenon that has local implications.

I remember, that while Jill's and Betty's sexual traumas may not be all that defines their bodies, their histories, their legacies, the breaking of the trauma is rooted in a recognition of how colonization of their bodies, their communities is illuminated.  Nakashima Brock and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite illustrate how the use of power and sexuality are ideologies of racism and colonialism.

The sex trafficking of people in the Asia-Pacific parallel the historic treatment of African slave women as “sexually” available in a racist institution of slavery; as delineated by Katharine H.S. Moon, Koreans, the Korean government and the U.S. military perpetuated the “comfort system that began in WWII where “everyday citizens participate in and live with systems of sex work and sexual abuse of women, even today, may serve as the progenitors of egregious practices like the "comfort system" and numb people into allowing the history of rape in war to repeat itself over and over again."[3]  While a repetition can never be the same, what is, is the silence surrounding the trauma that women on the base or camptowns experience.

I also want to remember that human trafficking through militarisms is not simply about the economics. It is a colonial relation between the body and the colonizer. That many survivors of human trafficking, regardless of what got them into the situation come from a diversity of locations; they can be doctors, graduate students, professionals, to that of the stereotype. And the demand for human trafficking is also diverse, but situated in a perceived position of power.

Colonization produces a fragmentation and dismemberment at both the material and psychic levels. Decolonization for Jacqui Alexander is the making of room for the, “deep yearning for wholeness, often expressed as a yearning to belong, a yearning that is both material and existential, both psychic and physical, and which, when satisfied, can subvert and ultimately displace the pain of dismemberment.[4]  In order to create a wholeness, requires a remembering of that which is forgotten. And, that which is forgotten is not so much whether or not human trafficking exists, but the systems that enable it and the silences that perpetuate it.

Decolonization is a remembering, a rupturing of the dismemberment. But it also requires a “differential consciousness”: a narrative worked self-consciously.  The narratives of survivors those who experienced the trauma in many ways is an example of differential oppositional consciousness. Their stories challenge the forgetting of a trauma, the forgetting in the individual body, their body, the multiple bodies of the collective, the “community”.

So the question that I leave with then, is if the focus of my work appears to be beyond the university, then how does this fit into a university system? That in our workings to decolonize the university, such a process must also always engage with the colonialisms beyond the borders of the university institution; because as a community of academics and activists, we do not live outside of the community beyond the university boundaries, but are very much situated in it.

Human trafficking is systemic violence. It is the type of violence that extends beyond the body of the individual into the body of the community. Multiple bodies are traumatized making generations upon generations feel the repercussions of systemic trauma. This means that not only anti-trafficking work needs to occur transnationally, but also with collective healing. To counter the metanarrative of human trafficking as “normal” in our society, to challenge beliefs that it will always exist and to challenge how it is perpetuated by processes of racisms and sexisms that are also are manifestations of colonialisms, is a decolonial act.


End Notes

1. Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 1997. “Toward an Integrated Perspective on Social Movements and Revolution.” Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure. Mark Irving Lichbach, Alan Zuckerman, Eds. Cambridge: Syndicate University of Cambridge, p. 149.  Metanarratives of social movements historically were constructed surrounding Marxism-Lenism, however, with the Third World Liberation Front and student movement during the 1960s illuminate how there are other theories that inform and mobilize that are informed by Foucaldian Social Constructivism, Derridian Deconstruction, and Cultural Misreading of Gramsci.

2. Ibid at xv

3. The Comfort Women: Colonialism, War, and Sex. Special issue of Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 5 (spring 1997). Edited by Chungmoo Choi (guest editor). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Pp. xiv + 323. $12 (individual issue).

4.  Pedagogies of Crossing 281








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