42 Years of Impactful Scholarship

ILJ Online

ILJ Online is the online component of Fordham International Law Journal.

The Crusade Against International Sex Slavery and its Controversial Brothel Raids

International Justice Mission (IJM) is a Christian non-governmental organization focused on fighting against international human trafficking, including child and adult sex slavery. [1] As part of the Bush administration’s counter trafficking efforts, IJM received millions of federal grants. [2] Since then, IJM has become the world’s largest anti-slavery organization with 17 field offices worldwide. [3] IJM’s approach in fighting sex trafficking is well known as “raid and rescue” missions. [4] IJM partners with local law enforcement and conduct undercover operations with hidden cameras to help the local police to make arrests and liberate victims in impoverished countries. [5]  According to IJM, more than 5,880 victims of sex trafficking were rescued by IJM and IJM-trained partners across the globe as of 2016. [6]

Although IJM had undoubtedly rescued numerous victims; human rights advocates have criticized IJM’s “raid and rescue” approach for disrupting HIV-outreach efforts, heightening the potential for police brutality, and subjecting the victims to deportation or involuntary detentions. [7]

Human Rights Advocates make this criticism because sex traffickers, who have been raided, become suspicious of NGOs that helped with things like HIV infection also aided IJM and the police. [8] Thus, the brothel owners bar NGOs and other social workers from providing care to the sex workers. [9]

Moreover, human rights advocates criticize IJM’s approach as fostering police brutality [10] because, according to a 2006 United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded study, a third of 1,000 sex workers surveyed responded that they had been raped by a policeman in the past year. [11] Furthermore, other studies, and police testimonies, reveal that local police (that IJM partners with) are part of the problem rather than the solution. [12]

Lastly, IJM has been criticized for subjecting the victims to deportation and a long period of involuntary detention. [13]  Under IJM’s approach, the voluntary adult prostitutes caught in IJM raids are often deported to the border, and the minor victims are moved to government rehabilitation centers or to IJM shelters. [14] This approach is controversial because, in many instances, the rescued women want to continue working rather than face deportation or indefinite detention because they do not have any realistic means to support themselves aside from prostitution. [15] Thus, numerous rescued women escape the shelters and eventually return to prostitution. [16]

Although IJM has rescued numerous victims, the criticisms demonstrate that IJM’s “bust and liberate” approach is not without its flaws.   IJM must face the reality that most of the voluntary prostitutes who are rescued from the raids eventually return to where they  were “rescued” and often face greater difficulties due to the effects of the raids. [17] Additionally, more should be done by the government and NGOs to systematically restore the criminal justice system of the impoverished countries where sex trafficking originates because the cause of much of the brutality that deprives the sex workers of liberty and dignity is the failure of the criminal justice system to protect them from violence. [18]

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.