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Cited and Quoted—”Knowing Victim: Feminism, Agency, and Victim Politics in Neoliberal Times” by Rebecca Stinger

Date: July 25, 2014

I came across an interesting new book, “Knowing Victims: Feminism, agency and victim politics in neoliberal times” by Rebecca Stringer of University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand), which seems to have just come out last month. I was surprised to find that the book cites and quotes from my blog post, “Reclaiming ‘Victim’: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative ‘victim to survivor’ discourse” in its concluding chapter. Here’s what she wrote:

In a powerful example of this kind of victim talk, feminist blogger Emi Koyama has recently framed contra- or post- neoliberal feminism as beginning with an anti-ascetic gesture of reclaiming the notion of ‘victim’.

Instead of moving to avoid victim identity and erase disadvantage and adversity,
Koyama’s piece ‘Reclaiming”Victim”and”Victimhood'” (2011) provides a robust critique of the neoliberal expectation that she should participate in such avoidance and erasure. Koyama critiques what she sees as neoliberal capitalism’s ‘trauma recovery industry’, which – in a familiar resignification of feminist conceptions of survivorship – is dominantly characterized not by compassion for victims, but by the withdrawal of compassion for victims who do not make the prescribed progression from ‘victimhood’ to ‘survivorship’ , framed as a celebration of human resilience. In its resignifications of ‘victimhood’ and ‘survivorship’, neoliberalism has situated victimbood as ‘something to be overcome’. In the neoliberal capitalist climate of ‘forced optimism’ and ‘mandatory healing’, those suffering the effects of social subordination are urged to ‘quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship, so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements’. Rather than invalidate the knowledge and perspectives that arise from experiences of victimization, and in order to mark resistance to the imposition of ‘compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the service of neoliberal capitalist production’, Koyama argues that feminists need to reclaim the language of victimhood, which she frames as a gesture of embracing vulnerability as a source of strength, instead of ‘blaming and invalidating victims’. She writes:

I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness.

More than being a legitimate means of survival, I interpret complaint such as Koyama’s as marking a significant disaffiliation from neoliberal victim theory. Koyama refuses to refuse ‘victimhood’, and this activity of ‘reclaiming’ victimhood is not a mere reversal. It is ‘minor’, or combining elements of contamination and political rebellion: Koyama speaks the ‘major’ language of victimhood (for example, opposing weakness and strength) but reiterates it rebelliously, critiquing the erasure of structural oppression in the reduction of ‘victimhood’ to individual mentality, and affirming the legitimacy of complaint. Koyama argues that a robust feminist critique of neoliberal capitalism ‘begins’ with the gesture of reclaiming victimhood, suggesting that this gesture is an opening rather than a resolution – an opening onto new avenues of politicization rather than an end in itself. In other words, the gesture of reclaiming victimhood is necessary but not sufficient.

Further information about the book can be found on publisher’s site as well as on Amazon.

Operation Cross Country VIII: Roundup and Comments

Date: July 3, 2014

Operation Cross Country VIII Roundup and Comments

There was yet another round of FBI Operation Cross Country in the end of June, making it the eighth nationwide prostitution sweep (supposedly) intended to “rescue” “children” who are in the sex trade (see my article, “Rescue is for Kittens: Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know about “Rescues” of Youth in the Sex Trade” for why this framework is problematic). As with the last few times, I’ve combed through hundreds of local news articles to uncover the full impact of the nationwide sweep on people in the sex trade, since FBI does not release a comprehensive national data.

Below, you will see an updated summary of all Operation Cross Country sweeps.

Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweeps
Source: FBI press releases; last updated in July 2014

  Date Cities “Rescues” “Pimps” Other Arrest
1 06/25/2008 16 21 unk 389
2 10/27/2008 29 49 73 642 (518 adult sw)
3 02/23/2009 29 48 unk 571
4 10/26/2009 36 52 60 700
5 11/08/2010 40 69 99 885
6 06/25/2012 57 79 104 unk
7 07/29/2013 76 105 159 unk
8 06/23/2014 106 168 281 unk

Here is a chart showing what local news media are reporting about OCC-VIII. Let me know if I am missing any news stories with additional data.

City-by-City Roundup of Media Reports on Operation Cross Country VIII
Source: FBI press release unless otherwise specified; last updated in July 2014

Division “Rescue” “Pimp” Adult SWs Notes Source(s)
Albany 0 0 unk    
Albuquerque 0 0 unk    
Anchorage 0 3 unk    
Atlanta 11 15 47 arrested women are age 18-38 (median 23) FBI Atlanta; WMAZ
Baltimore 2 5 33 WBAL reports three “rescues,” contradicting FBI figure WBAL; WMAR
Birmingham 1 3 14 arrested women are age 19-34; “6-week old baby was also rescued”–is this one of the women’s child? FBI Birmingham; WHNT; WAFF; WZDX
Boston 0 0 unk    
Buffalo 2 0 unk    
Charlotte 0 3 unk    
Chicago 13 4 unk    
Cincinnati 0 1 unk    
Cleveland 16 12 at least 49 12 sw arrested in Boardman (ages 19-36, avg 25.67, median 25.5); 2 in Elyria (ages 19 and 20); 35 in Toledo. 4 minors “rescued” in Toledo are ages 15, 16 (x2), and 17. WYTV; WFMJ; Chronicle-Telegram; Vindicator
Columbia 1 2 unk   FBI Columbia
Dallas 2 2 unk    
Denver 18 11 64 “38 adults cited/arrested for prostitution, 26 adult victims/prostitutes contacted”; one minor identified as 16yo; two in Colorado Springs as 15yo boy and 17yo girl; boy “was trading se for a place to stay using an online website”; 13 women arrested in Pueblo, 4 more as “accomplices” FBI Denver; KCSR; Colorado Springs Gazette; Billings Gazette; KXRM
Detroit 5 6 unk    
El Paso 0 1 unk El Paso Times reports 2 pimp arrests and 8 rescues, contradicting FBI; one victim identified as 16yo El Paso Times
Houston 4 4 unk    
Indianapolis 4 3 at least 10 10 sw arrested in Fort Wayne WANE; WLFI; WISH
Jackson 2 19 up to 53 12 sw and 3 drivers arrested in Rankin County FBI Jackson; WDAM; Sun Herald; WAPT
Jacksonville 0 1 26   FBI Jacksonville; Florida Times-Union
Kansas City 2 7 at least 4 4 sw in Springfield alone KOLR
Knoxville 0 1 at least 8 Eight women were arrested for prostitution, four women were arrested for promoting prostitution, two women were arrested for human trafficking, and three men were cited for solicitation. FBI Knoxville; Times Free Press; WBIR
Las Vegas 7 2 at least 30 30 sw in Reno alone Reno Gazette-Journal
Little Rock 2 5 36   Associted Press; KFSM
Los Angeles 10 12 at least 54 total of 60 arrests in Long Beach alone FBI Los Angeles; Orange County Breeze
Louisville 0 4 unk    
Memphis 2 5 unk    
Miami 3 4 unk    
Milwaukee 6 12 at least 13 13 sw in Racine County alone FBI Milwaukee; WITI
Minneapolis 1 9 unk    
Mobile 0 0 unk    
Newark 1 8 37 minor was age 14; “45 pimps and prostitutes” arrested FBI Newark; Shore News Today
New Haven 1 1 44   FBI New Haven
New Orleans 3 17 75 5 sw in Alexandria, 17 in Baton Rouge, 10 in Lake Charles, 3 in Monroe, 17 in New Orleans, 23 in Shreveport The Town Talk; Gannett Louisiana; KTBS; Bayou Buzz; WDSU
New York 3 3 unk   FBI New York
Norfolk 0 1 unk    
Oklahoma City 2 14 27   KFOR; JohnTV; The Oklahoman
Omaha 1 2 unk    
Philadelphia 0 2 unk    
Phoenix 5 21 52 Yuma Sun reports 52 sw “rescued,” while FBI reports 42. Yuma Sun has further detail (breakdown by location), so I tend to believe it. FBI Phoenix; Yuma Sun; KTVK
Pittsburgh 0 3 25 “30 arrests on state charges, including three pimps and two adults that traveled for sex with a minor” leaving 25 arrests for adult women FBI Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Portland 1 2 20   FBI Portland; KOIN
Richmond 0 2 26   FBI Richmond; News & Advance
Sacramento 9 7 unk   FBI Sacramento
Salt Lake City 0 0 unk    
San Antonio 6 3 at least 6 6 women arrested in Austin for prostitution (ages 20-30, avg 26.67); 22yo woman arrested for “human trafficking” for “prostituting a 17-year-old girl”; the 22yo and 17yo were working together according to TWC News FBI San Antonio; KVUE; Austin American-Statesman; KXAN; TWC News
San Diego 2 6 35 5 sw arrested in Oceanside alone; “rescues of 37 victims, including two minors” FBI San Diego; The Coast News; KPBS
San Francisco 6 13 57   Point Reyes Light; Marin Independent Journal; KTVU
Seattle 4 13 56   FBI Seattle
Springfield 2 1 unk   FBI Springfield
St. Louis 0 1 at least 2 2 sw (ages 19 and 20) in Columbia alone FBI St. Louis; Columbia Tribune
Tampa 8 3 up to 82 Total 85 arrests, including 2 sw in Sarasota FBI Tampa
Washington 0 2 unk    
Total 168 281 (1000+?)    

Please note that I am counting the number of adults in the sex trade who were subjected to some form of police intervention as part of OCC-VIII, and not necessarily only those who were arrested or charged with prostitution. Many news stories disguise what actually took place (for example, writing “liberated from prostitution” when women are arrested), and some law enforcement officers seem to intentionally mislead the media (Portland Police Bureau reportedly told a reporter that they “did not arrest” any women, which is technically true, but left out the crucial fact that the women were given citations instead). I hope that someone would file FOIA requests with each FBI division to find out what happened to all these people.

While each Operation Cross Country campaign becomes bigger than the last, the overall patterns remain the same: large number of adult women in the sex trade are subjected to intervention by the law enforcement (most, though not all, are arrested or cited for prostitution or other related crimes); young people who are trading sex in order to escape from violence at home or in child welfare system and those who have safe home to go back to are lumped up together and involuntarily “rescued” back into the systems that they ran away from in the first place; young women and others who work with or alongside other young people are unfairly targeted as “pimps” even when there is no sign of any abuse or exploitation; Black and Brown men and women are profiled as “gang members” and “pimps” while the professionalized white rescue industry employ force, fraud or coercion to tell young people how they should live.

For more analysis on the “rescue” operations, please read the following articles: