Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking

Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking

Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking

Other Dreams of Freedom: Religion, Sex, and Human Trafficking


Human trafficking has captured worldwide attention as a crucial moral and political issue, but perhaps nowhere more than in the United States. Since they were signed into law in 2000, U.S. federal laws and policies on human trafficking have been understood as concrete expressions of the civic values of personal and political freedom. Yet these policies have also been characterized by a marked preoccupation with regulation, and especially sexual regulation.

Yvonne C. Zimmerman offers a groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between freedom and sexual regulation in American anti-human trafficking law and policies.. She argues that the religious values of American Protestantism have indelibly shaped the federal government's approach to engaging human trafficking, and that the trajectory of the U.S.'s anti-trafficking efforts cannot be fully grasped without understanding the unique ways in which sex, morality, and freedom are connected in Protestant Christian configurations of morality. Zimmerman shows that particularly under the George W. Bush administration, the U.S.'s anti-trafficking project expressed a vision of freedom whose structure and logic is thoroughly Protestant.. Her analysis challenges the assumption that combating human trafficking necessarily entails sexual regulation, and reveals the extent to which the preoccupation with sexual regulation has functioned to discourage alternative understandings and practices of freedom, particularly for women.

Other Dreams of Freedomdemonstrates that if opposition to human trafficking takes the promotion of freedom as the point of departure, then freedom must not be identified strictly with religiously and culturally Protestant understandings, but ought also permit other understandings of how freedom is constituted, practiced, and maintained.


Popular wisdom holds that slavery began its end with the dismantling of the transatlantic slave trade and that it was completely abolished in the United States with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. But in recent years, this popular wisdom has been challenged. Slavery, also known as human trafficking, is alive and well. Entering the term “human trafficking” into an Internet search engine yields hit after hit of dramatic stories of abuse. Trafficking in persons is an important contemporary human rights issue, and its prevention and elimination are a serious moral challenge.

Different nations, international players, and nongovernmental organizations variously define trafficking in persons. One of the most commonly accepted technical definitions of human trafficking or trafficking in persons is the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), or Palermo Protocol. The Palermo Protocol defines human trafficking as

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of per
sons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of
abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or a position of
vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to
achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for
the purpose of exploitation.

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