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Google ‘Gives Back’ To Some Dubious NGOs

Sex workers outraged over some Google Gives Back recipients, plan protest today

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Google ‘Gives Back’ To Some Dubious NGOs
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Google’s been funneling a laudable amount of money ($11.5 million) into organizations that strive to end modern day slavery in developing parts of the world as a part of the Google Gives Back initiative.The decision to give money to a few of those non-government organizations, though, has attracted the ire of a pro-sex workers’ rights group because of the dubious activities of some of those recipients.

Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You are objecting to the donations by Google to groups that they’ve identified as harmful to sex workers around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale. SWAAY objects not only to the amount of money being given by Google to these morality NGOs (because some of them are doing pretty good on their own) but also for how these groups harshly treat willful sex workers as victims of human trafficking.

For example, the International Justice Mission is a massive evangelical Christian group that has taken the charge to rescue slaves but SWAAY parses exactly what that mission means. For one, SWAAY argues that IJL doesn’t see any difference between willing sex workers and those people who are victims of trafficking. By projecting the image of “angelic saviors,” SWAAY says that “IJL uses its power and political connections to pressure governments to crack down on the whole sex industry as an ‘anti-trafficking’ measure.” The results are often horrible for those caught in the dragnet:

This steamroller approach blindly attacks everyone in a brothel or red light district … which leads to more violent raids from famously 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, disgusting jails.

SWAAY isn’t trying to diminish the actual genuine good that IJL does in rescuing legitimate sex slaves, but the nature of these “aggressive sweeps” tends to create more abuse for those rescued.

Another fact that SWAAY points out is that the IJL isn’t exactly hurting for money: their 990 tax form from 2009 shows they brought in almost $23 million that year. That the IJL is so well funded already raises speculation over whether Google seriously vetted some of the NGOs benefiting from Gives Back and whether other organizations in need would have been better candidates for the donations. Not quite in the same league as the IJL, the Polaris Project, another group targeted by SWAAY, raised a little under $4 million in 2009. (Note: I accessed the tax forms for both organizations through GuideStar, database of information about nonprofits. You can view these tax forms through that website but you will need to register for a free account first.)

SWAAY makes similar charges against Polaris Project, who participated in the campaign against craigslist for allowing sex workers to safely advertise on the site. By removing these reliable outlets for safe commerce, SWAAY accuses Polaris Project of limiting the options sex workers have in maintaining their own safety:

The ability to advertise and do business online has been important to the safety of independent sex workers in the developed world. It allows us to screen potential clients for warning signs of danger (such as checking sex offender databases or local “bad date lists”), and it creates a digital paper trail.

Due to Google’s selection of these three NGOs as beneficiaries to the Gives Back program, SWAAY has organized protests at Google’s offices today in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chapel Hill. Additionally, they have issued a list of demands that they hope Google will accept that include Google’s immediate cessation to funding NGOs that crusade against sex workers’ rights and safety, a full disclosure of how much money Google has already donated to organizations like IJL and Polaris Project and – perhaps most important – an apology from Google in the form of similar donations to local non-profits.

A few supporters took to Twitter today and professed their outrage at Google’s actions:

We acknowledge that these groups do some good things, but that doesn’t excuse the horrible deeds they also perpetuate http://t.co/bazCte1t 11 hours ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

I know NYC has lots of sex workers and sex worker allies. Any of you want to stage a Google protest next Wednesday? http://t.co/Tftewuob RT! 2 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Sex Workers Rallying to Protest Google’s Funding of Morality Groups http://t.co/4K6uBJ3Q via @xbiz 22 minutes ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto

#Dec21: Sex workers Day of Action against Google for financing harmful rescue groups & abolitionists http://t.co/6LTXNWtr 1 day ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

Rescue Industry rejected by trafficking victims, Google notwithstanding http://t.co/Lo2fRvaW 8 hours ago via NetworkedBlogs · powered by @socialditto

I recommend readers visit SWAAY’s very thoughtful and persuasive statement about Google Gives Back on their website. Also, what do you think about Google donating to faith-based NGOs? How do you feel about organizations like IJL impacting sex workers? Add your piece in the comments below.

Google ‘Gives Back’ To Some Dubious NGOs


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  • ChrisB

    Did anyone think Google actually cared? Throwing bundles of tax deductable cash at what could easily have been the top few results on a google search on the subject, rather than looking for the smaller projects where that money could really make a difference is disappointing. Throwing it at god squad NGOs is frankly stupid and was almost certain to come back and bite them in the ass.

  • Cynthia

    I can understand why there would be this misunderstanding about the money given to International Justice Mission (IJM) because they are doing pretty good on their own. However, they do not treat EVERY sex worker as a victim of human trafficking. I have visted their facility in Cambodia, spent time with the girls that have been rescued from the brothels as a result of their undercover work, and seen firsthand what they do to prevent human trafficking. First, they only raid brothels with the help of police and law enforcement and the goal is to rescue underage girls who have been trafficked; prostitution is legal if you are over 18 in Cambodia and if the girls in the brothels are over 18, they are forced to do anything. Second, children who are rescued are put in safe facilities to keep them from the owners of the brothels who believe they have had their property stolen, and the girls are only kept there for a short time before they are reintegrated and given fantastic opportunities for other work. Some return to the brothels, but in the places that IJM works, prostitution is not the first choice of work for women; it destroys them. Unfortunately, SWAAY seems to not really understand the work the IJM does or what the environment is like for the trafficking victims in other countries. I, after seeing firsthand what IJM does in Cambodia, would never compare their tactics to a steamroller.

  • Adam

    One, Polaris is not a faith-based NGO. Two, your bias against faith-based NGOs is clearly evident in your article. I don’t understand what faith has to do with whether sex workers by choice are lumped in with human trafficking victims or not. Three, just because there may be some “legitimate” sex workers who sell themselves by choice (a small percentage by the way) doesn’t take away from the fact that there are millions who aren’t doing it by choice and that men are preying on women and girls in very illegal ways. Get your facts right, be more objective in your “reporting” and show a little respect to people – whether they are of faith or not – who are actually doing something good in this world.

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