Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
This article is the first part of a two-part series. The next installment will explore alternative approaches to addressing the problem of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution. –The Editors
Gary Haugen is cradling the padlocks in his thick hands. A former high school football player–bristly crew cut, broad shoulders squeezed into a dress shirt–Haugen has more the mien of a military man than a lawyer, although his image is in keeping with the muscular work of the organization he founded and heads. The president of the International Justice Mission, an evangelical Christian organization devoted to combating human rights abuses in the developing world, Haugen is musing over the mementos of IJM’s work in India and Cambodia. The padlocks look ordinary enough: heavy brass, a squat square one, a round one with a key. But they had once hung on the doors of brothels, until local law enforcement busted the establishments in raids initiated by IJM.
“Have you been to Tuol Sleng?” Haugen asks, looking down at the padlocks. He is speaking of the central Khmer Rouge detention center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, now a museum filled with photographs of the thousands who perished at the prison. “There it is–you see a factory where people got up every day and then went to work, and their job was to torture people as painfully and horribly as possible to extract a confession from them and then kill them.
“A lock on a brothel, for me, represents this element of violence and force,” says Haugen. “The lock is on the outside of the door, not inside.”
For Haugen, the locks are reminders of his calling: to break the chain of human rights abuses, one person at a time. He argues that the main problem facing the disenfranchised is not one of hunger, homelessness, lack of education or disease. Rather, the root cause of much of the suffering in the developing world is the failure of the criminal justice system to protect the poor from violence–the brutality that robs them of food, home, liberty and dignity.
In an effort to counter those failures, IJM marshals more than 300 Christian lawyers, law enforcement specialists and social workers who collaborate with local counterparts and police to provide services to victims of slave labor, sexual abuse, police brutality, illegal detention and land seizure. In the case of its best-known and most controversial work–brothel raids–IJM provides evidence of trafficking to police in countries including India, Cambodia, the Philippines and, in the past, Thailand; and it collaborates on “interventions” to remove victims from the establishments and arrest and prosecute their abusers. Although the raids have undoubtedly saved a number of trafficking victims from exploitation, human rights advocates have criticized the interventions for disrupting HIV-outreach efforts, heightening the potential for police brutality and subjecting adult sex workers and trafficking victims to possible deportation or long involuntary stays in shelters.