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ing is about), and onto hyperscrutiny of the sex industry. Sex workers became the target
of raid and rescue campaigns, and antitrafficking initiatives from the United States star-
ted making their way into the Emirates at the level of discourse as well as action. The
TIP was very clear in its directives toward the UAE:
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination country for men and women
trafficked for the purposes of labor and commercial sexual exploitation …
government authorities continue to interpret the anti-trafficking law to exclude
some who have been forced into commercial sexual exploitation of labor …
identify, prosecute and punish acts of sex trafficking (U.S. Department of State,
A snowball became an avalanche, escalating with its own momentum. Most import-
antly, perhaps, is that attention was directed away from reforming kefala and migrants'
rights (which is at the heart of trafficking) and focus was placed exclusively on the sex
industry. A secondary result was that U.S. antitrafficking efforts began to direct their
attention toward “saving” the “poor women in the Gulf” as one Los Angeles based act-
ivist told me in 2008. Organizations such as City of Hope also began taking on a new
mandate (with American support) to “fight trafficking.” Locally, the Emirati response
was to create a vice squadron within the police department to focus on “trafficked wo-
men.” These police officers were imported most often from neighboring Bangladesh or
Sri Lanka 18 and not trained to work with sex workers or trafficked persons. The result,
as many sex workers told me, was increased abuse from police officers who conducted
raids in the name of rescue. “What we needed were more labor inspectors, but the traf-
ficking issue, when it took center stage, it was all about arresting women,” explained a
local migrants' rights activist in Dubai. “And when they increased police and increased
raids, they actually increased abuse,” added another volunteer who had herself experi-
enced the abuses she discussed at the hands of imported police officers.
The conflicted and at times negative role of “the social” was evident on multiple
levels within my fieldwork. Many migrant women I spoke with complained of hyper-
scrutiny on “trafficking” as producing a category of criminals to be prosecuted or vic-
tims necessitating rescue (and sometimes both simultaneously). More specifically, they
noted that this “rescue” came in the form of raids, arrests, and deportation, which for
were working. Anya, a sex worker from Eritrea noted that “the police come, they say
they come to save us, but they hurt us. So many of us have bruises from the police.
But seeing bruises is good, because maybe then they let you go, you are lucky. The not
lucky ones have to go home.” Other women complained that the rescue rhetoric created
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