Monday, April 27, 2009

Suffering and exploitation...and more exploitation?

From what I can tell, parents who adopt internationally tend to fall into two camps: very liberal or very conservative. There doesn't seem to be much in-between. Which means that it can get quite heated in the adoptive parent forum that I belong to, especially around religion. I could have started a real riproaring argument on Friday in response to a particular thread, but I desisted, feeling a bit like a person setting out to rain on someone else's parade. After all, I can sound off here instead.

An adoptive parent started a thread recommending a blog she called a must read. The blog, from what I can gather, is by a white American man, one Tom Davis, who is working as a missionary in Africa. The main focus of his work seems to be helping orphans and raising money to fund orphanages. Well, I read a bit of it, and I'm sickened by much of what I read.

There's a story of a girl who is beat up and raped by four boys on the streets. A photo of the girl immediately after the attack, bruised and swollen-lipped, follows. That, we come to understand, is the "before" photo. The "after" photo, featuring the same girl, now beaming and radiant, follows. "Mary Today," reads the caption. "The Mighty One has done great things!"

And then there's this:
Today I met a young woman who was abandoned by her parents and ended up
living with her aunt. All during this time she lived under the constant threat
of being raped by her cousin every night.

A photo of this young woman follows.

Then then this:
I met an 18 year old sex worker with a baby. She was really a beautiful girl and
one of our team members asked why she sold her body. "So I can have food to
eat," she replied. Nobody should be forced to sell themselves so they
don't starve.

A photo of the woman and her baby accompanies the description.

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with raising money to fund orphanages in countries where children sleep on the street and go hungry. And even though it drives me crazy, there's also nothing terribly wrong with proselytizing as you're doing it. I respect the work he is doing. I am not attacking that. I am sure that he means to do only good. I am not attacking him.

What I am attacking is his method of fundraising--this attempt to evoke the reader's sympathy and compassion by telling the deeply painful and deeply personal stories of the people he encounters. Worse, he presents the protagonists of these stories as victims. Worse still, he adds photos of these people, sometimes even photos OF their trauma. Someone out there will surely threaten my life for saying this, but there's something disturbingly pornographic about it all.

These are not his stories to share. They are certainly not his to share with anyone in the whole world with access to a computer. And in telling them he re-victimizes those who have already survived enormous trauma. And in identifying them in relation to their trauma, he disregards the possibility that they carry shame, a need for privacy, a need to choose when and where they share this trauma.

Surely respect should come at the very top of any list of Jesus-like qualities one might choose to emulate as a missionary. Even if respect doesn't raise much money. Even if respect means that you get to feel a little less like a savior, and a little more helpless, a little more human. Even if respect means that you don't always feel so good about yourself or so sure that your intervention is desired by the interventee.

I'll stop there, without mentioning the "trailer" for Davis' novel, Scared. (That's right: I said a trailer for a novel. If you figure that one out, let me know) I could probably write 5 more posts on its third-world-porn qualities alone. But then I'd have to watch it again. And I just don't have the stomach.

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