Mixtapes for Hookers

The Grey Man, And Why This Invisible Children Mess Isn’t So Surprising

You probably know that I try my best not to talk about international politics ever, on this blog but also pretty much in the real world. But the #Kony2012 hysteria–and a backlash so immediate that I actually knew about the backlash before the hysteria–has been really fascinating me for the past week or so.

The story, about Invisible Children, a group of Americans who produced a video calling for military action against a kidnapper in a country that most Americans would never be able to find on a map, gained a lot of traction almost immediately, thanks in large part to the Twitter-going ways of Jesus-loving teenagers in Alabama and also Invisible Children’s tactic of using Twitter to bomb the accounts of certain celebrities like Ryan Seacrest and Ellen DeGeneres,* whose opinions on African militarization are suddenly things we are meant to consider seriously.

But this story–to put it unsympathetically, a bunch of privileged white people go to somewhere far away and use exploited children as a means to feel better about themselves and their white privilege and their frankly rather dodgy organization–sounded eerily familiar. And then I remembered the article I read last month about The Grey Man.

That’s gotten very little coverage in the US, that I’ve seen, anyway, so let me give you some background:

The Grey Man is a relatively new Australian charity that claims to work on ending child trafficking and sex work in Southeast Asia. Their vigilante methods of capturing traffickers was profiled in a national news story in 2009 and their profile has been raised steadily since then. Funded entirely by donations, the group’s success stories haven’t been believed quite so easily by sex workers groups, who (correctly) tend to ask questions before believing every story that comes along about the rescue of child sex slaves.

So there was one problm: The Grey Man volunteers, men with military and police training, weren’t really telling the truth about their many rescue missions.

Thai media, actually, accused the charity in December of faking the rescue of 21 rural children, lying to the adults in the community about why they were there and then using photos of the children to ask for money via Facebook**. Andrew Drummond, a British journalist who independently investigated the story, said that the children never left their village, all lived at home and all went to school every day. More than that, he found that the children’s education was government-funded so that their education was paid for. He even took a photo of them to match the one that The Grey Man took; the children were never in any kind of danger at all.

Australian media, with few exceptions, were pretty silent about that news. But the Scarlet Alliance, a major group of Australian sex workers, has called them out on it. According to an editorial by the Alliance’s Ari Reid:

Apart from exploiting Thai children, causing damage to the reputation of an entire village and strengthening harmful and hurtful stereotypes, it is also being alleged that the charity conned the Australian public in order to get donations… it appears the Australian media is too obsessed with Asian sex slaves and white saviour stereotypes to do so…

So where does that leave everyone?

[I]t falls on sex workers, using a voice that is already marginalised, to compete for airtime against charities with whom we already compete with for funding, to ensure the media and public are educated on complex issues such as trafficking. Sex workers were the only people to review and critique the unethical Oscar nominated documentary “Born into Brothels”. Sex workers in the US are driving the response to Ashton Kudger and Demi Moore’s failed foray into “rescuing” a imaginary American child sex slaves, playing watchdog to Google’s funding of inappropriate rescue organisations, and warning Obama of the damage forced rescue reeks in the lives of sex workers in Cambodia.

*I really like Ellen DeGeneres, generally, but this is the third time in just the past month or so that the weight of her celebrity has been turned into a ridiculous public issue which, in every single case, makes her look clueless at best.

**Perhaps it’s not surprising that Invisible Children shows up near the top of their Facebook Likes.

1 Comment so far
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Sex trafficking is a severe problem in poor, developing countries like Cambodia. It’s so prevalent in society that people have grown callous and sometimes do not see it as a problem. Young women are transported in wooden cages and bought and sold to rich, powerful figures and sometimes even to foreign journalists.

Comment by Cambodian Music

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