Trafficking in God: Exploring Racialization in Faith-Based Commercial Sex Trade Interventions Restricted; Files Only

Symmonds, Nicole (Summer 2021)

Permanent URL:


For the last thirty years, white evangelical Christians have been one of the most prominent groups on the frontlines of the anti-trafficking movement in North America. Whether advocating for policy changes on behalf of survivors, interacting with populations vulnerable to sexual exploitation, or staging rescues, these moral actors use Christian religious practices and values to respond to the issue. They also influence how people understand trafficking by blurring the lines between voluntary and involuntary sex work and classifying both as commercial sexual exploitation. Another way that white evangelicals affect perceptions of and responses to anti-trafficking is by operationalizing a view of race that promotes a particular subject and response—namely the white woman subject as the arbiter of sexual and moral virtue and the Christian religion as the paradigmatic framework for recovery. In consideration of the stronghold that evangelical Christians and conservatives have over commercial sex work interventions, this dissertation employs comparative historical analysis, qualitative research, and ethical reflection to explore how white evangelicals from the late eighteenth century to the present have racialized their anti-trafficking work. Historical analysis comparing eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anti-vice work with contemporary white evangelicals' anti-trafficking work reveals practices of racialization that determine who is and who is not a victim. The qualitative research draws on participant observation and in-depth interviews to describe religious practices and racial narratives that shape volunteer experiences in orientation and outreach. Finally, the dissertation proposes an ethic of encounter that assists anti-trafficking organizations in better recognizing and responding to Black women in the commercial sex trade. In this ethic of encounter, I center the voices of Black feminist and womanist theorists, ethicists, and theologians to talk back to history, re-member the Black woman’s body, untether whiteness and liberate God from the constraints of white evangelical anti-trafficking activism.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction 1

Chapter 2: White Slavery: The Beginning of Racialization in Anti-Trafficking Work 31

Chapter 3: History of a Hub: Atlanta’s Past and Moralizing Movements 58

Chapter 4: A Case Study in Anti-Trafficking Work in Atlanta 97

Chapter 5: Toward a Womanist Ethic of Encounter 136

Appendix 160

Bibliography 161 

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified Preview image embargoed

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files