Google recently announced that they are making the largest-ever corporate donation to "ending modern day slavery" -- an impressive $11.5 million. We applaud and support Google's desire to fight slavery and forced trafficking, but Google's funding recipients include three NGOs that cause serious harm to sex workers around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale.
As sex workers and clients continue to be criminalized and stigmatized, and organizations that provide support services to erotic service providers, it is offensive to watch Google shower money on well-heeled religious and anti-sexuality organizations. Does Google know what their millions are really supporting?
International Justice Mission is an evangelical NGO that "seeks to restore to victims of oppression the things that God intends for them." The so-called "rescue" work promoted by organizations like IJM translates to actions that are nothing short of violent, neocolonialist oppression against an easy target -- brothel workers in developing countries. IJM uses its power to pressure governments to crack down on the whole sex industry as an "anti-trafficking" measure, which leads to violent raids from notoriously corrupt police forces in countries like Cambodia, the Philippines, and India. The people caught up in these raids frequently report being beaten and raped by the police who are supposedly "rescuing" them, and are detained against their will in privately-funded, locked-door "rehabilitation centers" or in overcrowded jails. While IJM and other "rescue"-promoting NGOs have found and helped some victims through these aggressive sweeps, in the process they create even more human rights abuses -- unwelcome messes that under-funded local organizations are often left to fix after the media frenzy dies down.
Polaris Project and Not for Sale both lobby for the further criminalization of all forms of sex work and the sex industry in America and abroad, regardless of whether the workers are consenting adults. Criminalization isolates and endangers sex workers in serious ways, leading to increased stigma and violence against already-marginalized people. This type of prohibition pushes sex workers away from reporting rapes, robberies, and other crimes against them, or even access to health care, because they fear being arrested themselves.
We demand an end to Google's funding of any organization that crusades against sex workers' human rights and safety or promotes the violent, forcible "rescue" and imprisonment of sex workers in the developing world.
We are also asking for an apology from Google in the form of equal donations to sex-positive community groups seeking to decriminalize prostitution or provide non-judgmental services such as free condoms, safer sex information, STI testing and other medical services.
We acknowledge that not everything these morality-crusading groups funded by Google do is bad, but that doesn't excuse the offensive words and horrible deeds they also perpetuate. Google should not be backing those that support human rights for some at the cost of violating the human rights of others. Donors don't have to choose between helping victims of forced trafficking and respecting the rights and self-determination of sex workers -- we can do both at the same time.
We urge Google to join those working toward a better world for every person in sex work, whether they are there by choice, circumstance, or coercion.