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Bibliography of Research-Based Literature on Human Trafficking: 2008-2014 by E. Gozdziak


Uhl, Bärbel, et. al: Data Protection Challenges in Anti-Trafficking Policies – A Practical Guide, 2015.

The European NGO initiative datACT – data protection in anti-trafficking action published the practical guide “Data Protection Challenges in Anti-Trafficking Policies”.

The publication offers an overview of the relevant European data protection provisions, a methodology to conduct privacy impact assessments for anti-trafficking NGO service providers, an analysis for the privacy rights claims for trafficked persons, and data protection standards for NGO service providers. Moreover, the study contains an elaboration of legal arguments that lead in 2013 to the failure of mandatory registration of sex workers in the Netherlands.


Prevailing constructions of international commercial sex as slavery have brought attention to a tragic underside of globalization but generate incomplete responses to abuse and obscure linked forms of exploitation. Anti-trafficking policies are systematically distorted by uninformed or biased analyses of sex work and the wider spectrum of forced labor. This paper will examine these distortions and propose a more integrated theory of reproductive labor coercion. The essay will explore how anti-trafficking policies could be improved by better distinctions between forced and free sex work, the understudied linkages between other forms of migration and sexual exploitation, and a triage approach to all forms of labor exploitation—based on harms rather than type of labor or victim.
Anti-trafficking policies depart from an assumption of free individual women or parents on behalf of children, who are coerced or egregiously misled to be smuggled across borders, and then continuously pressured and abused to engage in sex work. It is assumed that such women were not and would not engage voluntarily in sex work, that other employment options do not exist or are not exploitive, and that trafficking is uniquely harmful due to its nature. Each of these assumptions is sometimes true, but to the extent they are not always or usually true, policy is distorted in the following ways.
First, anti-trafficking policies framed to protect “innocent” women from sexual slavery ignore or slight prior sex workers or other women who migrate voluntarily to engage in sex work but are subsequently exploited. Second, international policy and especially American policy focuses disproportionately on east–west traffic, culturally recognizable European victims, and youth, when the vast majority of victims are interregional in the global south. Third, policies often aim to stop commercial sex rather than the violence, exploitation, and other harms associated with it and with other forms of labor and migration. Policies based on these assumptions do not serve even the preponderance of their intended beneficiaries, victims of transnational sexual exploitation.
The disproportionate emphasis on trafficking within the migration policy also slights the wider set of persons exploited and abused across borders. The individualistic emphasis and sexual focus of anti-trafficking efforts fails to address the wider issue of structural violence and economic determinants of all forms of trafficking, labor abuse, and exploitive smuggling. Such policies also fail to recognize the much broader sexual abuse of women integral to many forms of exploitive globalized labor, such as sexual harassment and rape in sweatshops and the “maid trade.” Finally, by putting sexual exploitation first and assuming that women are uniquely degraded by sex, anti-trafficking policy diverts attention from equally harmful and widespread forms of labor exploitation that affect equally “innocent” men and children, as well as women toiling in dangerous and debilitating non-sexual jobs.

Sex, Lies, and Globalization

Over the last decade, international humanitarian campaigns and policy have begun to address the horrific and increasing transnational sexual exploitation of women and children. While this is a welcome development, it is too often based on a distorted understanding of trafficking, violence, and globalization. Sexualized, individualistic myths regarding trafficking limit appropriate attention and response to victims of a wide range of globalized exploitation and coercion, including the intended beneficiaries of anti-trafficking efforts.
Many advocacy groups cite figures of more than 27 million people worldwide exploited in contemporary forms of slavery, with several million of those forced or tricked across borders (based on Bales 2004). The U.S. State Department estimates that up to 820,000 men, women, and children (are) trafficked internationally each year while the International Organization for Migration cites a rough figure of 800,000 (U.S. Department of State 2009; International Organization for Migration, http://​www.​iom.​int). The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 1.39 million people are victims of commercial sexual servitude worldwide, though this includes both transnational and domestic trafficking. The U.S. data suggest that about two thirds are women and girls. Much of this traffic is from east to west (Europe) or south to north (Latin America–U.S., Southeast Asia–Europe, and the U.S.) (The United States Department of Justice 2008).
Women now comprise almost half of international migrants. Women are trafficked within and across borders for various forms of female-typed labor, from “nimble-fingered” sweatshops to the “maid trade,” from mail order brides to prostitution. Women are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and exploitation in all of these forms of labor, but the level of coercion is usually highest in transnational prostitution. While regional patterns of female factory and domestic labor mirror those of males, the export of female sexual services follows distinct geographic patterns, east–west and south–north.
The numerical preponderance of people trafficked domestically are men indentured for debt slavery in rural areas of developing countries or forced labor in dictatorial regimes and war zones. Significant numbers of male and female children are also enslaved on plantations, in informal factories, as domestic servants, as beggars, and as child soldiers. The largest flows of domestic labor trafficking are within the poorest countries and regions, Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East.
Although international sex trafficking is an especially egregious violation of almost every fundamental freedom enacted on especially vulnerable populations, other forms of labor exploitation and abuse are even more widespread and affect greater numbers of people. For example, the ILO estimates there are nearly 700,000 child domestic workers in Indonesia alone, and Human Rights Watch has identified that country as one in which a large number of such workers face “slave-like conditions,” including frequent physical and sexual abuse (“Swept Under the Rug: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Worldwide,” 2006) This is a far larger and more vulnerable affected population in one country than the maximal estimates of Eastern European women trafficked to the West for sexual exploitation. Similarly, the International Organization for Migration estimates that in 2007 alone, there were 26 million internally displaced persons as a result of political conflict or natural disaster (along with 11 million refugees)—and these vulnerable groups face very similar threats to their rights and well-being as trafficking victims (http://​www.​iom.​int). Although women trafficked for sexual exploitation are especially at risk of abuse due to displacement, the number of women coerced or pressured into prostitution within their countries far exceeds trafficking victims, with little international attention or pressure. For example, some sources estimate that Iran, a closed society where migration is not a major factor, hosts 200,000 to a million women working as prostitutes under degrading, repressive, and exploitive conditions—and increasingly threatened by HIV infection (see http://​www.​salamworldwide.​com/​issues11th.​html).
Inappropriate or disproportionate policies may result from these ill-founded or incomplete understandings. The good news is that U.N. standards, U.S. aid conditionality, and human rights network campaigns have inspired dozens of countries to prohibit trafficking in persons. There are educational, law enforcement, and victim assistance efforts in sending and receiving countries, via regional programs in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and through global bodies such as the International Organization for Migration, the ILO, and UNICEF. The bad news is that almost a decade of anti-trafficking programs have done little to reduce the incidence or the harm of the phenomenon, and may even have diverted attention from root causes of trafficking itself and equally harmful practices of labor exploitation affecting greater numbers.
The United States should be the best case for anti-trafficking efforts, since it has a willing and relatively effective state, legislation in place since 2001 and an attentive civil society coalition of religious, feminist, and human rights advocates for trafficking victims. Yet, with an estimated incidence of “as many as 17,500 people” per year, the U.S. limits special protective visas for trafficking victims to 5,000 per year and actually grants only several hundred (CRS Report for Congress 2010). According to the State Department’s mandated annual Trafficking In Persons report for 2008, in 2008 the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices initiated 183 investigations, charged 82 individuals, and obtained 77 convictions in 40 human trafficking cases (13 labor trafficking, 27 sex trafficking). On the victim assistance side, the Department of Health and Human Services certified 286 foreign adult victims in FY 2008, and issued eligibility letters to 31 foreign minors, which enabled them to receive special protective visas and social services. At the same time, one of the few genuine preventive measures that indicates both responsiveness and unmet need, the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline, received a total of 4,147 calls, including more than 550 tips on possible human trafficking cases and nearly 400 requests for victim care referrals (http://​www.​state.​gov/​g/​tip/​rls/​tiprpt/​2009/​123133.​htm). Completing the picture, U.S. sources report that in 2007 only 3,427 traffickers were convicted worldwide (CRS Report for Congress 2010), keeping in mind the rough estimates of 800,000 victims annually.
The web site http://​www.​bayswan.​org/​traffick/​, run jointly by Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Network of Sex Work Projects, the International Human Rights Law Group, and Human Rights Watch, monitors the effects and shortfalls of anti-trafficking initiatives. Part of the problem is an overestimation and concentration on coercion rather than more complex “structural violence” as a determinant of sexual exploitation. A single but suggestive 2009 London Metropolitan University survey of migrants in sex work in the UK concludes that, “Interviews with 100 migrant women, men and transgender people working in all of the main jobs available within the sex industry, and from the most relevant areas of origin (South America, Eastern Europe, EU and South East Asia), suggest that although some migrants are subject to coercion and exploitation, a majority are not…. approximately 13% of female interviewees felt that they had been subject to different perceptions and experiences of exploitation, ranging from extreme cases of trafficking to relatively more consensual arrangements. Only a minority, amounting approximately to 6% of female interviewees, felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex in circumstances within which they had no share of control or consent.”
Moreover, a report by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking shows that anti-trafficking programs too often impinge the rights of the people they are supposed to help. Based on research, in a range of sending and receiving countries—Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the report shows that women who are “rescued” from trafficking may be indefinitely detained against their will in police facilities or shelters, involuntarily deported, forced to provide evidence which puts them and their families at risk, or even abused or harassed by law enforcement officials. In other cases, young female migrants and potential border crossers are profiled and subjected to preemptive scrutiny and interdiction that impinges their freedom of movement in the name of protecting them from trafficking (Global Alliance, “Collateral Damage,” 2009). Thus, some argue more broadly that a “rescue industry” undercuts the rights of migrant sex workers when it types them as “innocent victims” in need of humanitarian protection rather than displaced agents in need of migration rights (Agustin 2007).
The United States has the most comprehensive policy and has devoted the most bureaucratic and financial resources to the issue of any single receiving country—averaging around US $80 million/year over the past decade. Yet, its record under the Bush administration clearly shows the limitations of traditional concepts of trafficking to address the problem (we will consider below how such concepts may be changing under the new administration). In the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, perhaps the central single piece of legislation, trafficking is defined as “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion”; under the Bush administration, the U.S. ignored the broader U.N. definition which encompasses sexual exploitation of voluntary migrants and other forms of non-sexual contemporary slavery. While the U.S. program is oriented around the “three Ps” of prevention, protection, and prosecution, prevention efforts are limited to a few education programs, and protection focuses more on training and subsidizing service providers than direct victim assistance. The bulk of the funding and effort is law enforcement, both in the U.S. and abroad. Under the terms of 2003 legislation, renewed in 2005, U.S. policy has even gone so far as to deny funding to health, migration, and sex worker assistance organizations for anti-trafficking and HIV prevention programs if such NGOs tolerate or advocate decriminalization of commercial sex work, unless the agencies explicitly condemn prostitution. Similarly at the global level, some health workers and scholars believe that an overemphasis on trafficking hinders HIV prevention and empowerment of sex workers to protect themselves, as well as stigmatizing prostitutes on the basis of religiously based ideology (Pisani 2008).
Worldwide, programs concentrate disproportionately on women trafficked from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to Western Europe and the U.S., when the vast majority of exploitation occurs in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, either intraregionally or domestically. Moreover, trafficking in Africa and the Middle East is more likely to involve children, and to mix sexual exploitation with other forms of forced labor and even institutionalized slavery (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2006), but both positive aid and legal assistance and negative U.S. sanctions have been focused by cultural construction and geopolitics, not need. For example, almost half of U.S. anti-trafficking funding went to East Asia or the Western Hemisphere and only 14% to Africa (CRS Report for Congress 2010). U.S.-sponsored Tier 3 sanctions have only been imposed on a handful of countries that overlap with pariah regimes sanctioned by the U.S. for other reasons, such as North Korea, where severe strictures on migration suggest that high levels of trafficking are unlikely.
In a parallel distortion, the large number of women trafficked south to north to sexually service migrant co-ethnics, a significant proportion of the Mexico–U.S. flow, receive much less attention and assistance than the east–west or Southeast Asian prostitution and sex tourism. The harms of this form of trafficking are reported to be especially high, with extremely harsh living and working conditions and frequent physical abuse. While there are problems of receiving country law enforcement and social service access to this population of at-risk or trafficked women within diasporas, a conceptual barrier to greater enforcement is the implicit assumption that these women are in some sense governed (or even literally owned) by their communities rather than the authorities of the receiving country. At the U.S.–Mexico border, the problem is exacerbated by a failure on both sides to distinguish smuggling from trafficking, resulting in U.S. smuggling suppression policies that drive migrants further underground into the arms of traffickers. Conversely, Mexico’s practical toleration and legislative confusion regarding smuggling fails to protect its own most vulnerable citizens from exploitation (Cicero-Dominguez 2005). The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, an inter-American coalition of 60 NGOs and government agencies, has begun to raise awareness and deliver services to this population and has received funding and provided training to U.S. border enforcement, justice, and social service agencies (http://​www.​bsccoalition.​org/​index.​html).
Burgeoning recognition of some of the structural determinants of trafficking has not yet registered in appropriate policies or a deeper reorientation. Overall, anti-trafficking programs devote far more attention and resources to prosecution than protection, and still less to prevention. For example, a best-case receiving country sensitive to social context—Australia—has committed almost US $7 million/year to combating trafficking in Australia through improving detection and prosecution while a counterpart sending country program financed by the ILO in Thailand for prevention through education and job creation provides only around US $1 million/year (http://​www.​ag.​gov.​au/​www/​ministers/​RWPAttach.​nsf/​VAP/​(966BB47E522E8480​21A38A20280E2386​)∼056+June+17+Hum​an+Trafficking+F​act+Sheet.​pdf/​$file/​056+June+17+Huma​n+Trafficking+Fa​ct+Sheet.​pdf) (http://​www.​humantrafficking​.​org/​updates/​165). Similarly, the vast majority of policy seeks source suppression rather than demand control, with the sole exception of extraterritorial criminalization of child sex tourism by many developed countries.
Sex work is not always slavery; sometimes it is “freely” chosen as the best of a terrible range of options available to poorly educated young women in patriarchal developing countries. Some of the distorted typing of trafficking as uniquely coercive and harmful obscures the pressures and violations of both alternative forms of migration and alternative domestic employment, as well as the sexual exploitation of “normal” practices in many sending countries. The “maid trade” is the main migration alternative beyond sex work for many young women from sending regions. For example, Saudi Arabian households employ an estimated 1.5 million domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal. Many of these migrants suffer egregious exploitation, “slavery-like conditions,” and even sexual abuse (http://​www.​hrw.​org/​en/​reports/​2008/​07/​07/​if-i-am-not-human-0). In parts of Latin America and Asia, young women who gain employment at home are likely to be employed in informal or low wage export-oriented production, i.e., sweatshops, with extremely high rates of sexual harassment and abuse. As fieldwork in the Dominican Republic shows, for example, it is perfectly rational for a woman in this situation to conclude that if she is going to be coerced into providing sexual services, she might as well get paid for it, and possibly escape some draining physical toil (Cabezas in Brysk 2000). In sending regions of South Asia and Africa, some young women naively but knowingly enter the sex trade fleeing “normal” customary domestic practices such as forced marriage, bonded domestic labor, and routine domestic violence.
Finally, the narrowed emphasis on transnational sexual exploitation sometimes deflects attention from equally harmful forms of non-sexual exploitation, transnational and domestic, enacted upon equally vulnerable populations. While there has been ample attention to child labor in export-oriented industrial sweatshops, for example, there has been much less coverage of routine domestic and intraregional child labor on plantations and in mines. As the recent U.S. State Department report on trafficking notes such non-sexual labor abuse, without offering a policy response parallel to anti-trafficking efforts:

Some 20 to 30% of the world’s gold comes from artisanal mines throughout Africa, South America, and Asia….of the two million children who work in goldmines worldwide, many are forced, often through debt bondage, to do back-breaking work in hazardous conditions. Child laborers in gold mines face a number of dangers: In West Africa, children rub mercury into their hands before sifting soil through their fingers. In South America, children reportedly wash gold while standing in waist-deep water contaminated by mercury. Prolonged mercury exposure causes retardation, blindness, kidney damage, and tremors…. In Bolivia, trafficked boys as young as eight help detonate dynamite in the interior of gold mines. Traffickers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo subject children to debt bondage in gold mines, forcing them to work nine to ten hours daily digging tunnels and open-pit mines. In gold mines in Ethiopia, children are forced to work an average of 14 h a day, six days a week. Children trafficked from Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali to gold mines in Côte d’Ivoire are held in slavery-like conditions and forced to work 10 h a day, seven days a week. They receive little food and meager pay. In 2008, a Guinean child told the Associated Press he was promised $2 a day for his work in a gold mine but received only $40 after six months of backbreaking, coerced, and hazardous labor. (http://​www.​state.​gov/​g/​tip/​rls/​tiprpt/​2009/​123128.​htm)
In sum, slavery is wrong, but trafficking is not always slavery—and other forms of migration and labor often are. Sexual violence is wrong, but trafficking is not always violent—and some of the violence comes from its suppression and illegality. Women are not always safe at home, either within their states or families, and empowering them is more effective than rescuing them.

Private Wrongs: The Problem is Power, Not Prostitution

A deeper analysis of the differential response to trafficking may permit a more complete understanding and commensurate response to exploitation and abuse. Opposition to trafficking springs from a set of incomplete and even contradictory moral intuitions that can be addressed by a more systematic human rights approach. Yet even a conventional human rights approach must be broadened to comprehend violations by non-state actors and empowerment in the social vs. civic realm, private wrongs.
Why has policy seized so narrowly on trafficking and adopted such a partial perspective on the nature and sources of the phenomenon? The narrative of trafficking has particularly salient features for contemporary Western publics, vis-à-vis other types of human rights abuse. The frame of transnational sexual labor exploitation was initially established as “white slavery” (Kempadoo and Doezema 1998). It thus taps into the moral capital of the anti-slavery campaign, often deemed the first modern human rights movement. In a morally regrettable yet politically powerful semantic move, white slavery emphasizes the “unnatural” threat of enslavement to a portion of a population generally exempted from this peril. Differential attention to Eastern European women promotes ready identification by Western publics with the subset of victims who are culturally and racially similar. Talk of slavery taps into Judeo–Christian religious imagery that appears to transcend ideology, avoiding more challenging sociological frames of labor exploitation or the highly contested issue of immigration rights.
The slavery frame garners a special historical resonance from the dominant society most resistant to universal human rights—the United States. As one of the most mainstream American organizations ties trafficking to “American values”:

We tell our children about the slave trade of Africans to the Americas. We speak of the atrocities that were committed. We speak of noble ideals and shun the thought that these things ever occurred in our history. And we pledge that no living thing shall ever be enslaved again to another. And while we recite these words, thousands of women and children across the world are being trafficked as slaves across U.S. borders and abroad. (National Association of the American People, www.​naap.​org)
Moreover, the United States has a particular history of Protestant condemnation of prostitution and a quest for social purity through the abolition rather than prevention or regulation of socially harmful activities.
The trafficking frame also draws on the most palatable form of feminism, the struggle to end violence against women. Internationally, the humanitarian protection rubric and transnational networks combating violence against women have succeeded in gaining much greater response than equally costly but chronic or contested economic, cultural, or social rights struggles (Keck and Sikkink 1998). Trafficked women, as “people out of place” (Brysk and Shafir 2004), bridge the universal individual claims of displaced persons and the claims of traditional family values as they are uprooted from the ascribed protection of home and family. Moreover, even within the violence against women frame, sexual violence receives greater recognition and priority. This is partly a reflection of decades of feminist education regarding the differential vulnerability of women and girls to these forms of abuse, but also articulates with cultural scripts of female sexuality as fascinating yet also dangerous and inherently degrading.
Recognizing slavery and sexual violence are necessary but not sufficient responses to trafficking and the wider spectrum of sexual abuse and transnational labor exploitation, which correspond more to our own cultural norms than the moral equality and self-determination of the victims. Analysts of trafficking policy distinguish human rights vs. law and order vs. migration control vs. moralistic approaches to trafficking, which prioritize different values of national security, cultural norms, and universal human dignity, but traffickers are not just criminals who can be suppressed by law and order but delegated agents of social control in exploitive systems of labor. Borders are not just demarcations of territory that can be better ordered but violently contested market niches. Commercial sex is not just a transgression of socially approved channels for male sexual appetite but an explicit commodification of female reproductive labor that turns some women into unwilling objects rather than self-determining persons. The common element is that individuals lack agency and control of exploitive social systems, human rights.
What would a human rights approach look like? The struggle for human rights rests in a dual mandate of protection and empowerment, yet the requisites of protection in the first generation of attention to a social problem often obscure broader strategies for empowerment vis-à-vis structural root causes. Furthermore, the liberal underpinnings of human rights predispose liberation from state-based external pressures to exercise free choice without fully understanding the range of constrained choice or non-state social actors that may impede the individual’s freedom. More specifically, the coercive model of trafficking dodges a deeper analysis of globalization’s structural pressures on decision making in households and social delegation of authority over women to households rather than state authorities in a kind of embedded second-class citizenship (Brysk 2005).
International sex trafficking is properly defined as transborder subjugated commodification of female sexual services. Like other forms of labor migration, sex trafficking follows dual market and organizational logics, supply and demand plus availability of smuggling and receiving networks. A supply of desperate and vulnerable women (and families, in the case of children) is generated by the collapse of local economies due to endemic poverty, political conflict, and/or pressures of globalization. Conversely, demand is highest in areas that have benefitted from globalization, with high flows of tourism and migration. Smuggling and receiving networks often developed around other illicit flows, such as drugs or weapons but flourish in weak states and articulate with local institutions of gender inequity. International abuse of women grows from pre-existing domestic practices of commodification of female reproductive labor, such as prostitution, forced marriage and domestic service, and patriarchal control of women’s movement, education, and employment—enforced by gendered violence. Bales’ overall predictors of trafficking levels in a given country are corruption, infant mortality, youth population, food production, population density, and conflict (Bales 2004, p 139).

This type of analysis is supported by evidence such as a study by La Strada International, a coalition of nineNGOs in Eastern Europe that shows systematically how trafficking is both a cause and a consequence of violations of women’s human rights in that region. Patriarchal stereotypes, domestic violence, domestic employment inequity, informalization of female-typed labor in both sending and receiving countries, feminization of poverty in transitional economies, and shortfalls in social support services that differentially affect women are all linked to higher rates and harms of trafficking (http://​www.​humantrafficking​.​org/​uploads/​publications/​lastrada_​08_​rights_​0708.​pdf).

The problem is power, not prostitution. If we want to stop subjugated commodification, we must empower its victims. Specifically, we must disable the mechanisms of subjugation by gender—multiplied by race, class, and caste—that enable exploitation, and if we want to diminish the harms of trafficking, we must reduce the violence, stigma, and second-class citizenship of subjugated women and sex workers, not seek to eradicate commercial sex. What kinds of policies would support this deeper approach to trafficking and its associated forms of exploitation?

Policy Implications

More broadly, how could an enhanced analysis of the roots and nature of trafficking help to design better policies worldwide? First, a human rights approach to trafficking as a private wrong would begin by strengthening protection and reorienting prosecution to serve protection rather than vice versa. A better distinction between forced from free sex work means that protection for victims must be delinked from prosecution of traffickers, and protective services and status must be offered without conditionality. Complementing this, victims of non-coercive sexual exploitation must be offered access to expanded mechanisms of legal and financial accountability for labor abuse.
On the other hand, protection for victims of coercion may be more effective under a broader rubric of refugee status rather than the narrower trafficking niche with expanded status for “well-founded fear of persecution” by non-state and transnational actors. There are some emerging precedents for this in leading states such as Canada’s extension of gender-based asylum and even recent U.S. rulings on protected status for victims of FGM and domestic violence that point in a similar direction.
Attention to prevention means empowerment. Since all forms of migration are potentially exploitive, strengthening labor rights and labor organizations of all migrants—including sex workers’ organizations—is an anti-trafficking and a human rights strategy. The challenge is to ensure that trafficking is not marginalized from such forms of empowerment and relegated to a humanitarian ghetto, and that undocumented migrants are not legally or socially isolated from state protection and self-defense. Advocacy groups may be needed to bridge the gap on an interim basis, but their goal should be to establish a legal framework and social capital for self-representation by migrant workers.
Since all forms of labor are linked to sexual abuse in conditions of gender inequity, the best remedy and prevention for the harms of trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation is programs and policies to increase women’s incomes, educations, and reproductive freedoms. This power gap is greatest in sending countries, but the private sphere—and especially the commercial sex industry—is the most unequal workplace in developed countries, warranting particular policy focus. The linkages between privatization and the potential for exploitation warrant special scrutiny in debates on the legal status of sex work and migrants in receiving nations.
Finally, anti-trafficking policy should triage prosecution and protection more by level of harm than type of abuse. While this does happen to some extent with the priority granted to prosecuting sexual exploitation of children, a triage by harms mandates a broader shift in the regional and demographic focus of receiving country and international institution programs. While anti-trafficking funds and programs focus on the most visible and Western-linked populations, more harmful forms of sexual exploitation are usually linked to poorer sending regions, greater gender inequity, servicing of other migrants or domestic indentured labor, and weak states. Developed receiving states can and should increase monitoring and “access to justice” programs for their less visible populations, as well as greater outreach to zones of intensified exploitation. This also means that all forms of exploitive labor in a country or region must be considered and prioritized by harm, rather than automatically focusing first on the sex trade. Even religious and some feminist advocates predisposed to attribute inherent harm to sex work should realize that greater attention to mitigating the harms of non-sexual labor should indirectly decrease sex trafficking by improving the alternatives for a vulnerable population.


The era of globalization has increased awareness of private wrongs and accelerated some forms of cross-border labor exploitation, but it has also distorted attention and response to a variety of abuses through historical, cultural, and sociological stereotypes. A better understanding of freedom, sex, and development will allow us to expand a human rights approach to these private wrongs.
Under the direction of the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the 2009 U.S. State Department Report shows signs of a modest conceptual breakthrough in the understanding of trafficking, along the lines suggested in this essay. The report now begins with a broader discussion of forced labor that frames transnational prostitution as one facet of trafficking, and the 2008 legislation encompasses fraud and exploitation following voluntary migration. The U.S. report explicitly states that prior employment in sex work for adults or parental consent to exploitation of children should not diminish accountability for forced labor. The new report also highlights the emerging U.S. practice of forcing traffickers to pay restitution to victims, which has the potential to increase the effectiveness of enforcement by diminishing the profit motive of traffickers. It is too soon to tell how, or how fast, these new understandings will improve U.S. policy.
What is clear is that the best anti-trafficking policy is universal, indivisible human rights. Human rights mean voice and choice. Victims of sexual exploitation need the same things as all migrants and all workers—recognition, monitoring, resources, access to justice, and organization. When the problem is power, the solution is knowledge, rights, and solidarity.
Open Access
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Agustin, L.M. (2007). Sex at the margins: Migration, labour markets and the rescue industry. New York: Zed Books.
Bales, Kevin. (2004). Disposable people: New slavery in the global economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bayswan. http://​www.​bayswan.​org/​traffick/​, run jointly by Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Network of Sex Work Projects, the International Human Rights Law Group, and Human Rights Watch. Accessed 10 Sept 2009.
Brysk, A. (2005). Human rights and private wrongs: Constructing global civil society. New York: Routledge.
Brysk, A., & Shafir, G. (Eds). (2004). People out of place: Globalization and the citizenship gap. Routledge Press.
Cabezas, A. L. (2000). Tourism, sex work, and women’s rights in the Dominican Republic. In A. Brysk (Ed.) Globalization and human rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Cicero-Dominguez, Salvador. (2005) Assessing the U.S.–Mexico Fight Against Human Trafficking and Smuggling: Unintended Results of U.S. Immigration Policy. 4 Nw. U. J. Int’l Hum. Rts. 303 at http://​www.​law.​northwestern.​edu/​journals/​jihr/​v4/​n2/​2.
CRS Report for Congress. (2010). http://​opencrs.​com/​document/​RL34317. Accessed 4 Aug 2010.
International Organization for Migration. http://​www.​iom.​int
Keck, M., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Kempadoo, K., & Doezema, J. (Eds.) (1998). Global sex workers: Rights, resistance, and redefinition. New York: Routledge.
Pisani, E. (2008). The wisdom of whores: Bureaucrats, brothels, and the business of AIDS. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
The United States Department of Justice (2008) Attorney general’s annual report to Congress and assessment of the U.S. government activities to combat trafficking in persons, fiscal year 2007. Retrieved July 14, 2009, from http://​www.​usdoj.​gov/​ag/​annualreports/​tr2007/​agreporthumantra​fficing2007.​pdf
U.S. Department of State. (2009). Trafficking in persons report. Retrieved July 14, 2009 from http://​www.​state.​gov/​g/​tip/​rls/​tiprpt/​2009/​
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns. United Nations: 2006

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This publication is based on the outcomes of a two year programme that studied migration policies in Asia and Europe to identify those practices that have contributed significantly to the welfare of migrants, their host countries and their countries of origin.

The volume identifies good practices across ASEM countries as well as key migration issues relevant to ASEM countries and their policymakers. It maps out those policies in both regions that are in support of fair and equitable migration systems; reducing migration risks and providing migrants access to protection; and the integration of migrants in sending and receiving countries. In so doing, it draws from actual country experience, some useful lessons on how labour migration can be governed by host and origin states in a way that contributes positively to individual welfare and to socio-economic development.

Abstract—Humanitarian efforts have spurred a visual culture that portrays suffering victims in order to elicit concern in audiences across the world. The humanitarian efforts of Western nations have come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. This paper analyzes the response of a sex workers organization in the Asia-Pacific region to the efforts of anti-human trafficking activists. It focuses on two visual images that are used to challenge this humanitarian regime and situates this campaign within the context of other humanitarian criticism.



Johansson, Isabell (2014): Swedish anti-trafficking policy. Official framework and local practices, Malmö University. 


This study sets out to explore Swedish anti-trafficking policy, both how it is defined in official policy-documents as well as on the local level. A brief overview of the history of antitrafficking policy and contemporary international measures relating to Swedish legislation on trafficking provides a glimpse into the contested meanings of these measures. This aspect finds foothold in the theoretical framework and is further developed throughout the study. By combining qualitative content analysis and interpretative policy analysis with interviewconducted among practitioners working in this field in a local context, Swedish antitrafficking policy is explored on different levels. The analysis of the legal Swedish framework and one national anti-trafficking action plan suggests that the Swedish fight against trafficking is strictly interlinked with another fight, one against prostitution. However, there seems to be a discrepancy between the theory and practice of this national policy. In the interviews with the local practitioners it is revealed that what is framed as anti-trafficking policy in official policy-documents is both contested and reconstructed on the local level. Thus, this study argues that Swedish anti-trafficking policy is far from a straightforward matter.

Full Thesis available here. 

Musto, Jennifer Lynne, and Danah Boyd. “The Trafficking-Technology Nexus.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, August 26, 2014, jxu018. doi:10.1093/sp/jxu018.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact


Within some public policy and scholarly accounts, human trafficking is increasingly understood as a technological problem that invites collaborative anti-trafficking solutions. A growing cohort of state, non-governmental, and corporate actors in the United States have come together around the shared contention that technology functions as both a facilitator and disrupting force of trafficking, specifically sex trafficking. Despite increased attention to the trafficking-technology nexus, scant research to date has critically unpacked these shifts nor mapped how technology reconfigures anti-trafficking collaborations. In this article, we propose that widespread anxieties and overzealous optimism about technology’s role in facilitating and disrupting trafficking have simultaneously promoted a tri-part anti-trafficking response, one animated by a law and order agenda, operationalized through augmented internet, mobile, and networked surveillance, and maintained through the integration of technology experts and advocates into organized anti-trafficking efforts. We suggest that an examination of technology has purchase for students of gender, sexuality, and neoliberal governmentality in its creation of new methods of surveillance, exclusion, and expertise.

Introduction: Prop 35

On November 6, 2012, California voters overwhelmingly backed the passage of Proposition 35—the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (Almendrala 2012). Whether out of moral conviction or the result of uninformed confusion, by passing Prop 35, Californians signed-off on a sweeping legislative agenda, one that included (i) stiffer penalties and steeper fines for traffickers, (ii) the juridical classification and registration of convicted traffickers as “sex offenders,” and (iii) the requirement that traffickers-cum sex offenders provide law enforcement with their online identities and information about other Internet activities (California Secretary of State 2012). Proponents of the measure viewed it as a key way to strengthen the state’s response to human trafficking—a term which broadly refers to exceptionally exploitive labor practices.1

Whereas Chris Kelly, the proposition’s co-sponsor and former Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook cited the passage of Prop 35 as a dual victory for advocates of human trafficking and child safety alike (Joseph and Tucker 2012), opponents of the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) underscored its overgeneralizing terms, broad definitional reach, and violation of sex offenders’ constitutional rights to free speech. Immediately following its passage, the ACLU and EFF filed a class-action lawsuit to curb implementation of one part of Prop 35 dealing with online registration requirements.2 The lawsuit not only raises pressing constitutional questions (Risher 2013), but puts into sharp focus how public concerns about trafficking and voter anxieties about suspected traffickers’ use of technology have colluded in advancing new legislative and criminal justice tools geared toward enhancing the surveillance of suspected traffickers and prospective victims alike. Prop 35 also raises questions about the kinds of interventions—technological or otherwise—that are assumed to assist those deemed most vulnerable to trafficking.

We begin with the passage of Prop 35 because it is a key exemplar of pressing developments taking shape in the United States; chiefly the growing, albeit uninterrogated assumption that technologies of the networked, connective, and mobile variety play a central role in facilitatinghuman trafficking. Attendant to these assumptions lies a corollary set of expectations that technology can be leveraged to disrupt trafficking, and that the efficacy of such disruption hinges on the promotion of public–private partnerships, heightened collaboration between state, non-profit, and corporate actors, and stepped-up internet and mobile surveillance of individuals suspected of facilitating and being victimized by the phenomenon. Yet these trends raise important questions: what does it mean when a topic beset by empirical contestation is situated as a problem whose source and solution is imagined in technological terms? What are scholars to make of nascent trends where concerns about trafficked persons’ exploitation have fostered new state and non-state collaborations and authorized intensified methods of surveillance for suspected traffickers and at-risk victims?

In Pardis Mahdavi’s book, From Trafficking to Terror (2014), she highlights how Prop 35’s passage relied upon moral and racialized panics not dissimilar to those that have accompanied the wars on terror, trafficking, and white slavery. For Mahdavi, an analysis of Prop 35 demonstrates how public concerns about trafficking have discursively framed some people as victims in need of rescue and others as “villains in need of monitoring or surveillance” (Mahdavi 2014, 8). Our article similarly looks to Prop 35 in an effort to examine how its passage has authorized new forms of surveillance, both for individuals deemed to be “at risk” of being trafficked and for those suspected of being traffickers themselves. In the sections that follow, we take up these concerns in more detail by examining what we refer to as the trafficking-technology nexus.

The 4As: Anti-Trafficking Interventions Meet Sociotechnical Innovation

Researchers have begun to explore how anti-trafficking actors understand and utilize technology to disrupt human trafficking (Latonero 2011;Latonero et al. 2012; Musto 2014; Thakor and boyd 2013). Meanwhile, others have documented the growth of a transnational anti-trafficking rescue industry (Agustín 2007; Gallagher 2011), highlighting how organized state, non-governmental, faith-based, and corporate anti-trafficking efforts have advanced a “neoliberal carceral agenda reliant upon punitive systems of control” (Bernstein 2010, 67). To date, little research has examined these trends together, nor explored how and in what ways anti-trafficking technologies in tandem with organized efforts mediated by and through innovative platforms (e.g., machine learning, predictive analytics, mobile and social media technologies, etc.) are reimagining anti-trafficking engagements.3 We argue that widespread anxieties and overzealous optimism about technology’s role in facilitating and disrupting trafficking belie other pressing shifts taking shape in the United States, trends we refer to as the “4As” and which define the contours of the trafficking-technology nexus.

Our utilization of a “4A” framework to account for these trends is purposeful: in policy and advocacy circles, shorthand alliterative slogans circulate to define anti-trafficking “best practices” and are used to bracket the parameters of state and non-state responses. The “4Ps,” for instance, refer to the US State Department’s goal of preventing conditions of forced labor, protecting trafficked persons, strengthening prosecutions of traffickers, and cultivating partnerships (US Department of State 2010). The “3Rs” refer to the “rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration,” of trafficked persons and are cited by governmental entities such as the US State Department as part of a victim-centered approach to trafficked persons’ protection (US Department of State 2011).

In a critical take on the 4P and 3R paradigms of state and non-state anti-trafficking efforts that precede it, we suggest that nascent developments on the sociotechnical front are characterized by “4As.” The 4As denote heightened awareness and visibility of particular online sites assumed to promote trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, the amassment4 of data by law enforcement to pursue anti-trafficking investigations, theaugmentation of traditional surveillance techniques and tools, and the advancement of collaborative arrangements and technological innovation in the form of automated or algorithmic techniques.

An assessment of the 4As and the trafficking-technology nexus has purchase for students of gender, sexuality, and neoliberal modes of governance by demonstrating how attention to technology as both the source and solution to it has simultaneously advanced a tri-part anti-trafficking response, one animated by a “law and order agenda” (Bernstein 2007a, 143), operationalized by surveillant technologies and regimes (Lyon 2010, 330), and maintained through the integration of technology experts and advocates into state anti-trafficking efforts.

Notes on Methods and Methodology

Our examination of trafficking and technology is itself a collaborative endeavor and weaves together our combined research on organized anti-trafficking activities in the United States (Musto 2011, 2013) and ethnographic research on technology, social media, and youth practices (boyd 2014; Palfrey, boyd, and Sacco 2009). The online, ethnographic, and interview-based data that anchor this article were gathered by Musto between June 2012 and January 2014 and derives from her intermittent observations and participation in anti-trafficking trainings, meetings, and forums that involved some discussion of technology. Although most in-person observations primarily took place in the West Coast region of the United States, she additionally participated in on and offline meetings and phone call discussions about anti-trafficking activities in the Midwest, East Coast, and Southwestern regions of the United States. Musto also conducted nineteen interviews and six informal discussions with law enforcement, non-governmental actors, technology innovators, attorneys, and advocates whose work addresses trafficking in the United States. Interviews were open-ended and discussed a range of topics, including participants’ perceptions of technology and how collaboration with other actors shaped their work.5

Beyond the practical negotiations of conducting research on a topic beset by discursive complexity and morally charged ideology (Vance 2011), we offer a few additional notes about our engagement with the subjects under review. First, we approach these topics with an interest in expanding scholarly understanding about trafficking and technology given the sizeable number of sociotechnical initiatives that have developed in recent years and since scholarly assessments of these efforts remain limited. While not intended as a generalizable assessment of all U.S.-based anti-trafficking activities focused on technology, our research offers preliminary insight as to how technology in general and sociotechnical innovation in particular are shaping anti-trafficking activities in the United States.

Second, we are concerned by how technologically mediated anti-trafficking interventions appear to blur the boundaries between sex trafficking and sex work and subject individuals deemed “at-risk” to new forms of surveillance. Sociotechnical anti-trafficking efforts not only risk perpetuating harms against the people they aim to assist; they may further contribute to interventions that render victims of forced labor and voluntary sex workers similarly vulnerable to heightened law enforcement surveillance and carceral oversight (Bernstein 2010; Ditmore 2009), punitive efforts we seek to challenge.

Third, we think heightened sociotechnical mediation of anti-trafficking efforts invites scholars and advocates to account for how technology and technological expertise reshapes the contours of anti-trafficking activities. Here it no longer seems sufficient to point out the carceral, anti-prostitution, gender essentialist, and heteronormative leanings of the U.S. anti-trafficking efforts. We do not mean to suggest that technological innovation renders such critiques unimportant or irrelevant. On the contrary, these insights are arguably as important as ever, as are discussions about the racial and class dimensions of anti-trafficking. But what we are suggesting is that the deployment of sociotechnical interventions shifts the discursive and material terrain of anti-trafficking in important new ways and failure to “come to terms with the digital” (Bauman and Lyon 2013, 35), the algorithmic (Gillespie 2014), and the networked dimensions of anti-trafficking (Thakor and boyd 2013) not only risks missing out on “whole swaths of significant cultural” (Bauman and Lyon 2013, 35) activities, but it also risks failing to grasp the ways in which technological mediation is changing the terms on which carceral, punitive, and protective anti-trafficking interventions are staged. In the sections that follow, we expand upon some of these themes, draw upon some ethnographic and interview findings and conclude by offering a tentative forecast of what the trafficking-technology nexus suggests for the future of anti-trafficking.

Collaboration, Technology, and Neoliberal Governmentalities

To fully grasp how and why technology has emerged as a key point of interest within dominant anti-trafficking discussions, a brief focus on the role of collaboration is needed. Since 2011, a sizeable cohort of state, non-governmental, and corporate actors in the United States have come together around the shared contention that technology functions as both a facilitator and disrupting force of trafficking, particularly sex trafficking. These developments emerge alongside other trends whereby an ever-expanding network of actors have attached themselves to the trafficking cause and formed new partnerships foregrounded in the belief that human trafficking is everyone’s mutual problem, and that public–private partnerships, entrepreneurial business models, and the cultivation of sociotechnical solutions are the most efficacious ways to respond (Bernstein 2010; Slavery Footprint—Made in a Free World 2012; Thorn 2012).

The advent of anti-trafficking collaborations and the creation of cooperative state, non-governmental, faith-based, and corporate networks, task forces, and alliances (Bernstein 2010) follow neoliberal incursions into the management of intimate relations as well as the “privatization of social welfare and marketization of political and social life” (Marchand and Sisson Runyan 2011, 4), what Lind aptly describes as “neoliberal governmentalities.” For Lind, neoliberal governmentalities “refer to the ways in which NGOs, multinational institutions, and aid agencies and foundations have played new roles in public/private partnerships since the inception of the neoliberal era” (Lind 2011, 53). Applying Lind’s insights to the case of human trafficking, what becomes clear is that some anti-trafficking actors who have come together to address it wield “interpretive power” in distilling what counts as coercive and consensual forms of intimate relations, and determining which types of anti-trafficking interventions are best-equipped to assist individuals identified as victims. It is well-established that state and non-governmental actors have played a crucial role in shaping the political terms of trafficking, both by myopically focusing attention on sex trafficking,6 and foregrounding all forms of commercial sex as innately exploitative, dangerous and traumatic (Farley 2003, 2007; Jeffreys 2010;MacKinnon 2011). Of note here is that some actors in the United States have begun to link this exploitation, in part, to the rise of new technologies (National Association of Attorneys General 2013).

Furthermore, by assuming that it is primarily women and girls trafficked into sex slavery, anti-trafficking actors have consolidated dominant expectations that certain sexual behaviors are extra-ordinarily risky and therefore require more robust multi-professional intervention by the state and its allies. In so doing, they have rendered invisible different kinds of exploitation that cisgender and transgender men, women, and children may experience (Vance 2011, 936). Understanding the mechanics of how these neoliberal governmentalities function is important to broader discussions about the NGO-ization of anti-trafficking efforts and the role that transnational actors play in shaping the discursive and material terms of sex workers’ and trafficked persons’ intimate relations, subjectivities, and agency (Musto 2008, 2011). Yet these trends are also crucial for unpacking how technology shifts scholarly understanding about trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, because technology creates new forms of visibility, surveillance, exclusion, and expertise.

Awareness and Visibility: Backpage 2.0

When technology and trafficking are referenced in mainstream media, the discussion tends to focus on the role of online classifieds advertising sites in facilitating sex trafficking of underage youth (Kristof 2012). Here public commentators—ranging from journalists to anti-trafficking advocates, policymakers, and attorneys general—have cited Backpage and Craigslist as key facilitators of sex trafficking online, suggesting that third-party entities have directly profited from the commercial sexual exploitation of children (California Department of Justice 2012)—or what is now referred to as domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST)—and benefitted from the anonymity afforded by the internet7 (National Public Radio Staff 2013).

Some law enforcement agencies have linked the prevalence of DMST to the existence of online classified ad sites. In a 2012 report released by the California Attorney General8 and the California Department of Justice, for instance, the authors write: “nowhere is the growth of sex trafficking on the Internet more apparent than on classified advertisements sites” (California Department of Justice 2012, 25). A broad coalition of child safety and anti-trafficking advocates have also rallied against Backpage (and Craigslist predating the closure of its Adult Services Section in 2010), arguing that the mediated technologies these sites support make it far too easy to advertise the services of exploited individuals and for sellers to connect with potential purchasers. While no conclusive data exist as to whether online classified sites increase experiences of exploitation—and although it is plausible to assume that any number of technologies may be used by individuals in any number of activities defined as criminal—what online classified ad sites like Backpage provide anti-trafficking actors is a visible and widely accessible platform through which to make their anti-trafficking claims (Musto 2014). By designating certain technologies as potentially dangerous vectors for exploitation and criminality, anti-trafficking actors have expanded their “interpretive powers” (Lind 2011, 53) by conjoining technological concerns with an anti-prostitution, law-enforcement agenda. The newfound framing of trafficking as a technological problem also reproduces discursive expectations that anti-prostitution sentiments—what are commonly referred to as “abolitionist” feminist perspectives (Chuang 2010)—in tandem with criminal justice interventions (Bernstein 2010) are the most efficacious way to respond.

It is notable that the very technologies (e.g., online classified ad sites) that have made trafficking visible and which have expanded the terms on which anti-trafficking claims are made (Thakor and boyd 2014) are the same platforms some attorneys general and advocates are working to shut down. This is paradoxical because the visibility and non-password protected accessibility of online classified ad sites like Backpage have allowed law enforcement, technology innovators, and non-state actors to occupy, trawl, mine data, and monitor individuals seen at risk for trafficking as well as those suspected of trafficking and pimping. Groups can use data gleaned from a site like Backpage for a variety of purposes. Some anti-trafficking actors in Canada, for instance, have devised an outreach effort based on scraping data off of the site to connect with potential victims of trafficking.9

Other groups use online classified ad sites stage their own cyber investigations. One police officer Musto interviewed discussed a local faith-based organization that performs its own online classified ad site investigations and then passes the information they gather along to law enforcement (Interview, June 21, 2013). In a subsequent interview with a member of the faith-based group, the interview participant explained to Musto that her organization has developed their own procedure for identifying victims of trafficking. She relayed that some of their efforts focused on online classified ad sites and in situations involving minors, information they gathered would be passed along to law enforcement, a finding that is consistent with what the police officer Musto interviewed also described (Interview, September 27, 2013). This type of non-state-sanctioned cyber practice broadly resembles how other non-profit groups have publicly described their engagement with online classified ad sites like Backpage, using it to directly connect with ad posters by phone (City Paper 2012). In each case, the goal is to strengthen law enforcement responses.

These examples underscore a few notable points: first, online classified sites are venues through which non-state actors make anti-trafficking claims. Second, online classified ad sites allow non-state actors to conduct their own cyber investigations, some of which may be couched as a necessary response to assisting law enforcement agencies facing diminished budgets, a general climate of austerity and resource scarcity, or who may simply lack the political will to dedicate resources to trafficking investigations. Third, and perhaps most crucially, the awareness and visibility of particular sites creates a venue through which non-state actors expand the boundaries of the state by serving as its investigative eyes and ears, on the street ( 2013) and online. In so doing, they create new venues for state and non-state actors to share and exchange information.10

Taken together, these examples highlight why discussions centered on shutting down particular technological platforms fail to account for the myriad ways in which their visibility has inspired collaborative governmentalities between state and non-state actors, arrangements that ought to instead prompt discussions about what, if any, types of anti-trafficking activities non-state actors should perform and what legal guidelines should dictate the kinds of data they share with the state? These questions are particularly salient in the wake of the 2013 NSA disclosures and in a moment where non-state actors are using an array of innovative and automated technologies to orchestrate their own cyber investigations to set up online stings to “honey trap” individuals suspected of perpetrating sex crimes. In November 2013, the Dutch non-governmental organization Terres des Hommes attracted global attention when information about their automated honey trap was revealed. The honey trap featured Sweetie, an automated character created by researchers and forged in the image of a 10-year-old Filipino girl. While Sweetie was created to draw attention to and curb webcam child sex tourism, the deployment of honey traps may also be used to pursue sex trafficking leads, for instance when law enforcement create fake ads on sites like Backpage to arrest suspected clients (New York Daily News, June 14, 2013).

Non-state-sanctioned anti-trafficking activities also raise questions about their impact on individuals seen as vulnerable to online and network-facilitated forms of exploitation and the legal and social repercussions that befall individuals suspected of facilitating such activities. What kinds of remedies are available to voluntary sex workers and trafficked persons alike when non-state-sanctioned cyber anti-trafficking activities compromise their safety and infringe upon their privacy and human rights?

While it may be useful, as a cursory exercise, to map how particular technologies are used to engage or promote any number of activities,11 a singular focus on the medium alone fails to address these questions as does unapprised optimism about how technology can be leveraged to disrupt trafficking. What technology unambiguously offers is heightened visibility, awareness, and accessibility, and debates surrounding online classified ad sites have solidified expectations that trafficking and trafficked persons can be observed, monitored, and digitally traced to disrupt exploitation in its tracks.

Mediated Interactions and the Amassment of Data Via Digital Traces

The idea that technology needs to be leveraged to more effectively combat human trafficking in general and sex trafficking in particular has garnered heightened attention in anti-trafficking circles throughout the United States. In addition to its ability to render trafficking more visible, technology is also understood as providing new tools to respond. Recent discussions have focused on how law enforcement should “exploit available technology to its investigative advantage,” particularly with respect to cases involving sex (California Department of Justice 2012, 64). A key theme punctuating these discussions is that suspected traffickers, pimps, and “johns” unfairly benefit from the anonymity offered by mobile and networked technologies. Rather than seeing technology strictly as a medium of exploitation, law enforcement and their allies are increasingly looking for new ways to pursue traffickers by using technology to upend their activities (Latonero et al. 2012; Musto 2014, iv). As a 2012 State of Human Trafficking Report released by the California Attorney General describes:Traditional law enforcement tools should be supplemented with innovative investigative techniques…while technology is being used to perpetrate human trafficking, that same technology can provide a digital trail. This digital footprint offers greater potential opportunity for tracking traffickers’ and johns’ communications, movements, and transactions. (California Department of Justice 2012, 7, 65)

The presumed technological visibility of trafficking offers new opportunities for tracing suspected traffickers’ digital footprints; here, the digital and data tracks left by mobile phone calls, text messages, financial transactions, GPS patterns, automatic license plate readers, and geolocation data enable law enforcement to track suspected traffickers and to corroborate relationships between them and the individuals they are suspected of exploiting (boyd et al. 2011, 4; Latonero et al. 2012;Musto 2014). In order to make use of digital traces, law enforcement and their allies must understand its technical capacities—what in sociotechnical circles is commonly referred to as a technology’s “affordances.”12

Assuming that law enforcement had sufficient technological training and resources to collect and analyze the asynchronous and semi-synchronous digital traces left behind by individuals suspected of trafficking, they could, in principle, have access to a treasure trove of material and an “evidentiary goldmine” with which to build cases against traffickers and pimps (Latonero et al. 2012, 29). As one federal prosecutor relayed: digital evidence has the capacity to “make cases” for law enforcement (Interview, August 16, 2013). Whether cases assumed to involve forced labor are filed under state or federal human trafficking statutes or if instead they are filed under different statutes, child pornography possession or distribution for instance, there has been increased focus on how to collect digital evidence and a corresponding focus on the types of tools and the kinds of partnerships that can augment law enforcement work in this area. There has not, however, been a similar degree of attention to how technologies and innovative tools are being leveraged to observe and keep digital tabs on individuals seen at risk of trafficking, including sex trade involved youth and adults. This is a curious and troubling omission, particularly since law enforcement may look to both groups to gather evidence and may employ different surveillance strategies as a means of gaining access to the digital and mobile phone evidentiary material of the individuals suspected of exploiting them and purchasing their services.

Augmenting Anti-Trafficking Surveillance

Individuals engaged in commercial sex in most parts of the United States have historically been subjected to different forms of “traditional” law enforcement surveillance. For police assigned to units whose investigations focus on prostitution and sex trafficking, surveillance has typically included in-person observation of street-based “tracks” or “strolls” where prostitution and commercial sex are assumed to take place. Framed as a “quality of life” and nuisance abatement issue, such efforts have aimed to move commercial sex “out of public view” and away from schools and other public places. For DMST cases, the tactics of surveillance have largely mimicked those developed to monitor voluntary prostitution, and like adults, youth have similarly been targets of street-sweeps, vice raids, and arrest. While the pretext for becoming objects of law enforcement attention may be couched in rehabilitative terms and may legitimize arresting youth in order to rescue, restore, and empower them (Musto 2013), the outcome for both groups appears to be the same, with both groups subjected to increased surveillance and heightened juridical and psychosocial entrapment by the law enforcement anti-trafficking apparatus. The introduction of federal and state anti-trafficking legislation since the year 2000 offers partial explanation as to why law enforcement have bolstered anti-trafficking efforts and by extension, anti-prostitution and anti-pornography surveillance tactics in recent years. Technology has not been the sole mitigating factor in this shift. It has, however, offered new opportunities for augmenting traditional surveillance tools by allowing law enforcement to draw from a range of digital, network and mobile platforms and technologies, many of which are imbued with surveillance capacities (Bernstein 2007b; Musto 2013).

The tactics law enforcement agencies may use to supplement traditional surveillance techniques are multiple and constantly evolving. Some law enforcement, for instance, may regularly monitor online classified ad sites and use the information they obtain to set up reverse stings (Musto 2014). Others may create fake social media accounts and online identities in order to befriend, identify, and monitor sex trade involved youth and their suspected trafficker-pimps. One local police officer referred to Facebook in general and his particular account in particular as an “intelligence gathering device.” He noted that his account is useful in that it allows him to continue to monitor some of the girls he previously arrested and whom who he friended under a fictitious name. The same officer cited another case in which his Facebook account made him aware that a kidnapped victim was put back out on the street, and involved again, in his words, in “the game.”

Another law enforcement officer spoke of using search incidents to arrest sex trade involved youth in order to seize and search the contents of their cell phone. He explained that an arrest allows him to search the contents of the phone and to locate a phone number of a suspected trafficker or pimp.13 He would look through the individuals’ cell phone where “Daddy” or “Big Money” may be listed as contacts. When searching the phone, he would also look for text message exchanges that like, “Daddy I got a date. I made x amount of $.” For him, these kinds of texts would help provide corroborating evidence of youth’s coercion by suspected trafficker-pimps (Interview, June 21, 2013).

Or law enforcement may ask individuals assumed to be engaged in street-based prostitution to show them their phones or ask them to disclose their social media passwords and/or the passwords of individuals suspected of exploiting them. During ridealongs with a unit charged with anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution efforts, Musto observed this “show me your phone” practice. In one incident, an officer approached a girl who appeared to look, by Musto’s untrained eye, young and under 18. The officer approached her and soon asked: “can I look at your text messages?” He then inquired how long she has been in the game. She told the officer questioning her that she had been working for three months, that she worked alone, and that she does not speak to pimps. Yet the officer did not seem to believe her and later told Musto that pimps “are like magicians. They convince girls they love them. The girls never admit that they have a pimp.”

When people who are stopped by police on the street and asked and then deny having pimps, cell phones and text message exchanges hold particular salience; they provide police with more information as to whether a person being questioned is affiliated with a pimp or “trafficker.” That these “show me your phone” stops do not necessarily lead to arrests of the individuals assumed to be involved in commercial sex is notable; here law enforcement augment investigations by gathering information (e.g., text messages) that may differ from what the person being questioned chooses to disclose to them. And although individuals approached on the street seemed hesitant to hand over their cell phones and a few questioned why they were being asked to do so, most complied, ostensibly out of fear of arrest.

At the police station and in conducting subsequent research activities, Musto learned more about why cell phones and text messages are so important: one officer described text messages as “golden evidence.” Or as a federal agent who has worked several child sex trafficking cases summarized in an interview: “It [evidence for cases] is just like a big puzzle where you have to link all these pieces together…social media, text messages, it’s all part of the puzzle” (Interview, June 29, 2012). But in order to gain access to other parts of the evidentiary puzzle, law enforcement look to individuals presumed to be potential victims of trafficking or those with ties to suspected trafficker-pimps to collect digital and mobile evidence.

In each of these examples, we get a partial glimpse as to how law enforcement are shifting their surveillance tactics and augmenting traditional investigative work. It is difficult to gauge the full extent with which law enforcement is augmenting its anti-trafficking surveillance tactics since some want to, in the words of a federal prosecutor “protect our secrets” (Interview, August 16, 2013). Yet whatever its scope, investigative techniques that rely on technologies in-built with extensive surveillance capacities raise timely privacy and fourth amendment search and seizure concerns (e.g., are youth able to give consent to having their cell phones and social media accounts searched?). They also provoke questions as to how carcerally orchestrated anti-trafficking efforts morph and are redefined by new technologies and shifting investigative strategies.

Third-Party Cooperation, Automation, and Algorithmic Innovation

As law enforcement seeks to leverage technology to build cases against traffickers and identify and protect victims of sex trafficking, they may increasingly interface with non-state technology innovators. The augmentation of various types of police work by non-state actors in the trafficking space is still in its infancy and it is therefore too soon to gauge what its overall impact will be. Yet increased interest to the ways in which sociotechnical innovation can be used to address trafficking follows broader neoliberal and policing trends where shrinking federal and state budgets have prompted law enforcement agencies to look to for-profit data-handling organizations to supplement certain aspects of police work (Ferguson 2013; Lyon 2010, 326). Here law enforcement agencies in the United States may interface with third-party vendors including those who collect and store data (e.g., social media and telecommunications companies) as well as other third-party, “data handling” technology experts (Lyon 2010, 326) who can assist law enforcement obtain and analyze the data. What third-party vendors have to offer law enforcement is a package of “predictive analytics, a catch-all phrase for a broad array of statistical analyses, machine learning, and myriad other algorithmic techniques” to enhance law enforcement agencies’ “predictive policing” capacities (Bowman 2012; Ferguson 2013).

Predictive analytics comprises but one part of a growing repertoire of technologies that may be employed to assist law enforcement in identifying incidents of trafficking as well as other crimes. Other sociotechnical solutions in development include face recognition, data mining, mapping, computational linguistics (Latonero 2011; Latonero et al. 2012) and the utilization of “big data” (boyd and Crawford 2012) and “big compute” to respond to the issue. While an in-depth discussion about predictive and anticipatory policing remains outside the scope of this article (see, for example, Ferguson 2013), what the aforementioned examples suggest is that third-party vendors are likely to play an increasingly important role in shaping the terms, conceptual frames, and algorithmic boundaries of how law enforcement evaluate and assess risk—whether that assessment entails profiling individuals seen “at risk” for perpetrating a crime like trafficking or whether it is based on evaluating an individual’s risk for victimization.

Like law enforcement, third parties must weigh how to balance the potential gains that these respective technologies offer while managing the attendant “scope” and “mission creeping” (Lyon 2010, 330) legal risks they invariably provoke. Algorithmic approaches are similarly new, and as one technology expert described in an email exchange, they introduce the potential for false positives as well as possible privacy and civil liberties infringements (Email Correspondence, December 17, 2012). While it may be useful to look to technology to detect statistical anomalies and to make sense of patterns in the data that could potentially help identify trafficked persons or the individuals who exploit them, pattern identification remains complicated and algorithms are far from impartial, their shape and design constrained by the assumptions and “procedural logics” held by the sociotechnical actors who create them (Gillespie 2014; Musto 2014).

This is why assuming that technology can “mine the data for patterns or expect a clever algorithm to sort things out” may be untenable (Email Correspondence, December 17, 2012). Finally, there is the issue of context or rather its absence: none of these technologies are equipped to do meaningful interpretation of the data provided. Not only does this underscore why it is important not to fetishize technical solutions or assume they are singularly capable of addressing the problem, it further highlights how the introduction of these techniques de facto demands heightened expert intervention and involvement.

Prop 35 Redux: New Forms of Expertise

By foregrounding trafficking as a problem of technology, new forms of expertise and new kinds of experts emerge to join organized anti-trafficking activities (Musto 2014). Though some mainstream anti-trafficking actors benefit from technology by cultivating powerful networks, some “lament what they have lost,” particularly the power to influence and maintain control over the terms on which anti-trafficking claims are made (Thakor and boyd 2013, 288). In the case of Prop 35, some of the contention emanating out of some anti-trafficking circles hinged on the fact that the ballot initiative sponsors did not sufficiently consult with those in the state with anti-trafficking expertise. As John Vanek, a retired Lieutenant from the San Jose Police Department and former head of the San Jose Human Trafficking Task Force noted at a USC sponsored Round Table Discussion on Prop 35:The number of people who are true experts in this field, in California, is actually quite small… what I would have asked, is that these people [anti-trafficking experts] would have been invited to the table (Proposition 35 Transcript 2012).

His co-panelist at the round table, Chris Kelly, affirmed that much of the tension surrounding Prop 35 came down to competing ideas about who qualifies as an anti-trafficking expert:Some who are opposing Prop 35 have tried to say that they’re the only experts out there. We’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of different experts, including D’Lita [trafficking survivor], and people who have experienced this themselves (Proposition 35 Transcript 2012).

While the tensions between anti-trafficking actors at this round table may be written off as contextually specific to California politics and although they were not expressly about technology per se, this exchange nonetheless underscores how heightened focus on technology promotes new types of expertise and also encourages new kinds of experts to join the anti-trafficking table. By imagining trafficking as a technological problem and expecting technology to be able to solve it, extant ideological and political fault lines, whether between anti-trafficking advocates and sex workers’ rights groups or among well-established anti-trafficking experts and moral entrepreneur newcomers are mirrored and magnified. Here again Prop 35 is instructive to understanding both the neoliberal dispersal of state authority to non-state experts and the ways in which non-state experts wield increasing political power, social capital, and interpretive authority in shaping the terms of trafficking and applying market-based solutions to address it (Miller and Rose 2008, 148).

Framing trafficking as a technological problem additionally invites competition between different actors.14 Recent U.S. governmental efforts to stimulate private-sector anti-trafficking initiatives and technological innovations help explain why Google, Microsoft, Palantir, and Yahoo! have all entered the anti-trafficking space; it is pitched as making good business and corporate philanthropic sense to do so.15 For a field tethered to market-based values of competition, tracking the effects of this are important. Gallagher (2011) observes that such an “environment can foster innovation and excellence, and it can also lead to duplication of experience and effort, contradictory standards, and closed circles of knowledge” (192–93). Technology writ large did not create anti-trafficking competition. But it does create and exacerbate preexisting tensions that get reified and fragmented around new axes of sociotechnical expertise. And because sociotechnical solutions arise out a technology industry which strives to maintain market advantage against competitors, it remains to be seen whether such an underlying ethos of competition can be temporarily bracketed and “closed circles” of technological knowledge opened to address trafficking (Gallagher 2011).

Concluding Thoughts

The 4A trends of anti-trafficking sociotechnical innovation demand our attention since they expand social class categories by reanimating preexisting hierarches. We should also consider whether predictive analytics, automation, and heightened dependency on augmented surveillant regimes (Lyon 2010) all in the name of securing trafficked persons’ identification and protection is in fact the best way to assist them or if instead these technologies and the actors who advance them will continue to collapse and confuse—albeit on a larger, more diffuse, and multivalent scale—voluntary sex workers with forced victims of sex trafficking and trafficker-pimps with sex trade market-facilitators (Marcus et al. 2012, 154; Musto 2014). These categorical distinctions matter and lie at the heart of why some California sex workers and their allies were so troubled by the impact of Prop 35,16 not only for the stiffer criminal sanctions it may impose, but also because of the proposition’s definitional ambiguity as to who counts as a trafficker? Trafficking victim? Voluntary sex worker? Such discursive demarcations are notoriously complex and introducing new technologies and integrating more sociotechnical actors will not lessen these complexities but exacerbate them.

What is further at stake is that technologies in-built with surveillance capacities are imbued with tremendous power to enhance and constrain the life opportunities and freedom of “at risk” groups as well as those suspected of exploiting them (Lyon 2009). This is because technologies enable law enforcement and their non-state allies to see, sort, analyze, target, mine data, and capture digital footprints they have not heretofore had access to all the while expanding categories of criminality and promoting anticipatory expectations about the individuals deemed mostly likely to offend or become victims (Lyon 2010; Trottier and Lyon 2012, 92). Tracing the impact of these trends is crucial, especially considering the underlying gendered, racial, and cultural expectations that inflect anti-trafficking victim and offender identification efforts (Hua and Nigorizawa 2010) and given the fact that it has overwhelmingly been “people of color involved in the street-based sexual economy—including pimps, clients, and sex workers alike” (Bernstein 2007a, 2010) who have been subject to heightened state surveillance and carceral punishment under the auspices of fighting trafficking. On the technological front, presumptions about color blindness and expectations of meritocracy are systemic within the industry. In the absence of a critical apparatus that meaningfully grapples with intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities—or which reflects upon how anti-trafficking sociotechnical interventions emerge alongside a late modern landscape punctuated by the growth of both the surveillance and carceral state (Bernstein 2010; Ohm 2012) the biases and inequalities that exist in physical environments are likely to be reproduced and further embedded within anticipatory sociotechnical modalities designed to combat trafficking or any other type of exploitation.

A close examination of the trafficking-technology nexus and the sociotechnical interventions initiated on behalf of victims of trafficking in the United States also gestures toward broader tensions that undergird anti-trafficking politics, especially the tenuous lines and perpetually contested boundaries that exist between security and surveillance, protection and punishment, and safety and social control. The seeming melting pot of state and non-state, carceral and corporate, law enforcement and sociotechnical actors that have emerged to join the anti-trafficking table signifies more than the creation and maintenance of strange bed fellow alliances and collaborative assemblages. What is further at play among mainstream anti-trafficking actors is a shared vision ofinevitabilities: that more law enforcement orchestrated, third-party augmented information sharing platforms and surveillance activities is necessary, that the market and the neoliberal logics that shape it are the most efficient way to address the issue, and that expert interventions will lead to trafficked persons’ empowerment and justice. That this vision of justice does not include a comprehensive discussion of the ways in which neoliberal governmentalities render individuals vulnerable to trafficking is one blind spot (Bernstein 2010). What is additionally limiting is that these anti-trafficking alliances privilege professionalized expertise and may bypass the most practical of considerations.

Amid all of the discussions focused on shutting down Backpage, one point that is seldom acknowledged is that its closure may pose challenges to two groups whose interests rarely align: voluntary adult sex workers and law enforcement. On one hand, shuttering sites like Backpage may increase the vulnerability of individuals voluntarily engaged in the sex trade. On the other, it may stymie law enforcement investigations by shutting down one of the more visible, “on-shore” sites willing to cooperate with law enforcement (Latonero et al. 2012).

Yet questions remain. If visibility is a byproduct of a technologically mediated ecosystem, how do we leverage it in ways that do not inflict additional harm on trafficked persons or others who find themselves caught within the anti-trafficking carceral protectionist net (Musto 2013)? How do we make sure that techniques that increase our ability to see new types of behavior are complemented with structures that enable us to maintain the most basic of legal protections? As technologies grow more sophisticated so too will the possibilities grow for staging innovative sociotechnical interventions, yet capitalizing on this knowledge requires far more low-tech solutions; specifically, political will and agitation for redistributive justice, the hardest assets to find.


Funding to pay the Open Access publication charges for this article was provided by Wellesley College.


The authors wish to acknowledge and extend our deep appreciation to Wellesley College, Rice University’s Human Trafficking Seminar, and Microsoft Research for their generous support of this research. We also offer a very special thanks to Elizabeth Bernstein, Mitali Thakor, Heather Casteel, Rane Johnson-Stempson, Elena Shih, Mark Latonero, and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful guidance and feedback.


  • 1 The language used to describe human trafficking in general and to distinguish sex trafficking from voluntary sex work is fraught by definitional confusion (see, for instance, Chuang 2010; Marcus et al. 2012; Weitzer 2007). In this article, we refer to “human trafficking,” “sex trafficking,” “domestic minor sex trafficking,” and “trafficker” as defined by the United States Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000. Though we use these terms for referential purposes, we remain cognizant that “trafficking,” as both a juridical term and empirical descriptor is conceptually cumbersome. We offer one additional note about terminology: while “human trafficking” encapsulates forced labor practices for sexual and non-sexual purposes, data presented here focus primarily on domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST). Future research should explore how technology is being used to address other types of forced labor.

  • 2 All other aspects of Prop 35, save the online registration requirements, have been implemented (CASRE 2013).

  • 3 Here we refer to “technologies” in a more poststructural rendering of the term. Collaboration between state and non-state actors is an example of an anti-trafficking technology, one that has put multi-professional cooperation in the service of neoliberal governance.

  • 4 Mahdavi notes that “technology can be used to amass data” and that it can be leveraged for empowering purposes, such as creating platforms for migrants to “organize, activate, and further enact social change” (Mahdavi 2014, 39). Our research on data amassment techniques takes a different tack and documents how data are cultivated to pursue cases against suspected traffickers and to digitally monitor prospective victims.

  • 5 In some instances, communication with law enforcement and non-state actors extended beyond the temporal bounds of the initial interview and included follow-up mobile and networked communication in the form of text message exchanges, email communication, Skype calls and LinkedIn messages.

  • 6 Scholars have consistently pointed out that not all human trafficking is sex trafficking, that sex work is sociolegally distinct from sex trafficking, and a combination of sketchy data (Vance 2011), panics about irregular border crossing (Chacón 2010) and a dismissal of women’s sexual labor and agency in the commercial sex trade (Andrijasevic 2010) have contributed to empirically uninformed expectations that sex trafficking is a more egregious problem than other forms of labor exploitation. See, for instance Vance (2011), Bernstein (2007a, 2007b, 2010), Chuang (2010), Weitzer (2007),Agustín (2007), Chapkis (2005), Kempadoo and Doezema (1998),O’Connell Davidson (2006), Chang and Kim (2007).

  • 7 Backpage and Craigslist are online classified advertisement sites that allow individuals to post ads for a variety of goods, purposes, and services, including available jobs, apartments for rent, and used household goods for sale. They also contain a personals section and Craigslist used to—and Backpage still has a specific section dedicated to “adult” services, which includes services provided by escorts.

  • 8 The perception that online classified ad sites exacerbate DMST is a theme that has been heralded by various attorneys generals in the United States. Some have used online classified ad sites and child sex trafficking as a rallying cry to advocate for sweeping policy changes to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA), arguing that their ability to enforce abuse is curtailed because of the current framing of CDA, Section 230 (National Association of Attorneys General 2013).

  • 9 Posters to the Edmonton adult services section of the online classified ad site may receive texts from Project Backpage with messages like “Want out? There is hope!” (Browne 2014). Some sex workers have viewed this kind of SMS outreach as a form of harassment. Yet the collaborative partners behind Project Backpage framed it as way to do outreach in a commercial sex landscape increasingly mediated by technology (Gow et al. 2014).

  • 10 It is not solely faith-based or non-profit actors who share information with law enforcement. Backpage legally complies with subpoena requests it receives from law enforcement and has developed automated and individual protocols to respond to them (National Public Radio Staff 2013).

  • 11 Individuals engaged in behaviors deemed “illicit” have long incorporated available technologies into their enterprise. For example, when commercial airline travel became cheaply available, people used it to smuggle illegal goods and transport people for commercial purposes. Communication technologies—such as telephones and telegrams—have long been used to enable illicit trade, often through encoded language (Gambetta, 2009). When looking purely at activities seen as “criminal,” it may be tempting to see the technological change and blame it without also looking at the other societal changes that are enabled because of it.

  • 12 Understanding the sociotechnical dimensions of a particular technology is crucial to those who want to leverage it. That is because knowing its affordances allows end users (in this case, law enforcement) to understand what kinds of practices the technology enables and what types of actions it is technically capable of producing (Norman 2013, xv).

  • 13 The issue of whether law enforcement may legally search the contents of arrested suspects’ mobile phones is as timely as it is constitutionally ambiguous. On January 17, 2014, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that will decide whether law enforcement is legally permitted to search suspects’ mobile phone without a warrant. As various commentators have noted, the warrantless search of mobile phones has heretofore remained a conflicted issue, with lower courts handing down different rulings as to its constitutionality (Kravets 2014;Totenberg 2014). The Supreme Court ruling will likely affect whether law enforcement can search the phones of suspected traffickers and victims.

  • 14 When technology emerges as a key feature of anti-trafficking work, actors must compete to maintain their influence by demonstrating dexterity in the logics of efficiency, expertise, entrepreneurship and technical fluency. Heightened attention to the technological “push” factors of sex trafficking thus consolidates and elevates the influence of sociotechnical actors to shape and control the terms on which anti-trafficking claims are made. See also Castells (2009) and Thakor and boyd (2013).

  • 15 At an October 11, 2012, public presentation at Rice University, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca discussed the role of corporate responsibility in combating human trafficking where “friendly competition” between companies was framed as the right thing to do and which may also be good for business.

  • 16 As part of an October 29, 2012, “No! On 35” Event organized by Bay Area sex workers in the lead up to the November 6, 2012, election, an online post about the event suggests: [Prop 35] “criminalizes as a trafficker anyone who assists young people in prostitution—a young person under 21 working with a friend could face prosecution as a trafficker and sex offender status for life, for giving her/him something.” At the time of writing, it is unclear whether Prop 35 will be used to prosecute individuals who assist sex trade involved youth. This is an area where follow-up research is needed.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact


This article examines the paradoxes of neoliberalism through two migrant sex workers’ negotiation of the transnational disciplinary regimes of morality, national security, and humanitarianism. We take as our point of departure their active resistance to the label of “victims of sex trafficking.” From a close analysis of their migration journey and their experiences in the United States, we come to understand these women as defiant neoliberal subjects. We argue that global anti-trafficking initiatives as they have taken shape in the twenty-first century are part of neoliberal governance. The women’s sexual labor subjects them to the scrutiny and penalty of the state. Yet they see themselves as self-sufficient, self-responsible, and self-enterprising individuals. We locate these tensions within three paradoxes of neoliberalism: the apparent amorality of neoliberalism and its facilitation of a conservative moral agenda; the depoliticization of social risks and the hyperpoliticization of national security; and the continuous creation and ravaging of vulnerable populations coupled with the celebration of humanitarian/philanthropic responses from governmental and NGO sectors. Juxtaposing these women’s self-making projects with the transnational state apparatus to combat “sex trafficking,” we gain insights into how individual pursuits and state practices intersect at this neoliberal moment—despite their different purposes.

Full article available here. 

Anti-Slavery international (2014): Report: Into the Unknown. Exploitation of Nepalese migrant domestic  workers in Lebanon

New research looking at the vulnerabilities to widespread abuse of Nepalese migrant domestic workers in Lebanon rooted directly in the systems in place in both home and destination countries. It also looks at the work Anti-Slavery and its partners have done to reduce these vulnerabilities and the first signs of change.

Download: Into the Unknown (1800.03KB)

Migrant domestic workers project

Tordes, Jonathan (2013): Human Rights, Labor, and the Prevention of Human Trafficking: A Response to A Labor Paradigm for Human Trafficking

Hila Shamir’s recent article, A Labor Paradigm for Human Trafficking, cri­tiques the current response to human trafficking, arguing that it has failed to make meaningful progress in reducing the prevalence of human trafficking.1  Her article asserts that to achieve greater success in preventing human trafficking, a labor approach is necessary to address “structural labor market conditions and practices that shape workers’ vulnerability and inferior bargaining power in the workplace.”2  Professor Shamir and I agree that the current framework is not op­timal and that too little has been done to address the root causes of human traf­ficking, including both supply and demand factors.3  We also agree that a labor perspective, which incorporates labor rights, has value in the human trafficking context.  Yet her article suffers from a dichotomous view that may actually be counterproductive: She positions labor approaches in opposition to human rights approaches.4  However, in both theory and practice, they overlap and actually can be mutually reinforcing.5

Full article available here. 

Author: Asa Yttergren *


Sweden is often described in terms of its high level of gender equality, which is associated with its institutionalized welfare. The quite radical official Swedish ambition regarding gender equality is laid down in many public documents. Within this context, prostitution is conceptualized as an extreme expression of gender inequality (see Gunnarsson and Svensson in this issue). The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the official Swedish attitude towards trafficking in persons for sexual purposes (hereafter referred to as trafficking), to place this view in an international context, and also to critically analyze problems that arise when the official Swedish objective of establishing gender equality is confronted with the issue of women who have been trafficked to Sweden.

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Zimmerman, Yvonne C. “Christianity and Human Trafficking.” Religion Compass 5, no. 10 (October 1, 2011): 567–78. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00309.x.


Christian involvement with advocacy and activism on human trafficking, an umbrella category that refers to the variety of processes by which individuals become enslaved, has proliferated during the last 15 years. This essay briefly introduces the topic of human trafficking, and provides an overview of three social movements that set important historical precedents for Christian anti-trafficking activism in the present: 19th century abolitionist movements, late 19th- and early 20th-century social purity movements, and the late 20th century religious freedom movement. Next, I explore two of the anti-trafficking frameworks that underlie much Christian anti-trafficking activism and advocacy in the U.S., noting their different assumptions about freedom and slavery. While Christians are largely of one mind that human trafficking is wrong, the strategies that they use and the ends they hope to accomplish are varied and even conflicting.

Full article available here

Human trafficking between data and knowledge

Claudia Aradau, King’s College London

Keynote talk for the conference on ‘Data protection and right to privacy for
marginalized groups: a new challenge in anti-trafficking policies
Berlin, 25-27 September 2013

Human trafficking is now widely recognised as a complex issue, which requires
differentiated measures or ‘holistic’ approaches as the literature names them. More
effective anti-trafficking measures are connected with the limitations or lack of
knowledge about human trafficking. ‘Lack of knowledge’ about the phenomenon is
often identified as one of the main constraints on more effective governance. ‘The
need for better data’ is now unanimously recognised by experts as one of the
necessary steps for improving anti-trafficking strategies (Laczko 2002, 2007). It is
now widely acknowledged that the data on human trafficking is insufficient,
unreliable, incomparable and limited (Ogrodnik 2010). The UNODC Executive
Director Antonio Maria Costa deems it a ‘knowledge crisis’ and goes on to explain its
ramifications for anti-trafficking:

Read the full paper here

Kelly Richards and Samantha Lyneham (2014): Help-seeking strategies of victim/survivors of human trafficking involving partner migration

Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 468

ISSN 1836-2206
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, February 2014

Foreword | Victim/survivors of human trafficking involving partner migration employ diverse help-seeking strategies, both formal and informal, to exit their exploitative situations. Drawing on primary research conducted by Lyneham and Richards (forthcoming), the authors highlight the importance of educating the community and professionals from a wide range of sectors—including health, mental health, child protection, social welfare, social work, domestic violence, migration, legal and law enforcement services—about human trafficking and the help-seeking strategies of victims/survivors in order to support them to leave exploitative situations.

Enhancing Australia’s knowledge of victim/survivors’ help-seeking strategies will better inform government and community responses to this crime, improve detection and identification of human trafficking matters and subsequent referral to appropriate victim services.

Ana Paula da SilvaI; Thaddeus Gregory BlanchetteII; Andressa Raylane BentoIII  (2013): Cinderella deceived. Analyzing a Brazilian myth regarding trafficking in persons, Vibrant, Virtual Braz. Anthr. vol.10 no.2 Brasília July/Dec. 2013 


This article provides an overview of how trafficking in persons has come to be imagined in Brazil. We stipulate that a mythical narrative has become central to discourses about trafficking used to guide policy-makers and educate civil society. We perform a structural analysis of this myth arguing that its acceptance, combined with the persistence of laws that define trafficking solely as the migration of prostitutes, has shifted public discussion towards a paradigm of passivity and law enforcement where members of certain social categories must be “educated to understand that they are victims” and their movements must be curtailed.

Keywords: Trafficking in persons, prostitution, Brazil, myths

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Boodry, Cathryn (2013):  Making Money: Cotton, Slavery and Finance Across the Atlantic 1815–1837, presentation at the Conference “Capitalizing on Finance: New Directions in the History of Capitalism,” April 2013

Full paper available here. 


In the nineteenth century cotton was the primary export item produced by,the United States for a global market. As early as 1815 the United States was,,the largest producer and Great Britain the largest consumer of cotton.1 The,,commodity proved deeply important to economic development and industrialisation, in both countries. Given the importance of cotton to both Britain, and the United States the vital role of slave labour in the production and sale,,of this crop is noteworthy for its contribution to self-sustaining economic,,growth across the Atlantic world. The role played by slavery in sustained,,economic development seems worthy of our consideration. Additionally,,,and especially in terms of this conference, the role played by British credit,,in allowing this system to function is equally important. An exploration,,of cotton bridges the worlds of finance, and slavery and makes clear how,,one facilitated the expansion of the other across the nineteenth-century,,Atlantic. The Atlantic market in cotton is testament to the vital role played,,by an Atlantic hinterland in European, and specifically British self-sustaining,,economic growth. This system of production required land, labour and, just as critically, capital.


Anderson, Bridget and Andrijasevic, Rutvica (2008). Sex, slaves and citizens: the politics of anti-trafficking. Soundings, 2008(40), pp. 135–145.

Full article available here. Originally published on

Trafficking is in the news. It is on the political agenda, both nationally and internationally. Thousands of individuals, hundreds of groups, dozens of newspapers are determined to stamp it out. This focus
on traffi cking consistently refl ects and reinforces deep public concern about prostitution/sex work, and also about immigration, and the abuse and exploitation it so frequently involves. So to challenge the expression, or some of the actions taken as a response to this concern, is akin to saying that one
endorses slavery or is against motherhood and apple pie. Traffi cking is a theme that is supposed to bring us all together. But we believe it is necessary to tread the line of challenging motherhood and apple pie while not endorsing slavery, because the moral panic over traffi cking is diverting attention from the structural causes of the abuse of migrant workers. Concern becomes focused on the evil wrongdoers rather than more systemic factors. In particular it ignores the state’s approach to migration and employment, which effectively constructs groups of non-citizens who can be treated as unequal with impunity.

Who made The RighT Guide and why?

The RighT Guide, a tool to assess the human rights impact of anti-trafficking policies, was
developed by Aim for Human Rights, together with anti-trafficking, sex workers’ rights and
migrants’ rights organisations in Europe and in other parts of the world. They all shared
a growing concern about negative effects of anti-trafficking interventions on the human
rights of trafficked persons and other people affected by anti-trafficking laws, policies
and practices, like sex workers and migrants. An illustration of these concerns is the 2007
report of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women ‘Collateral Damage: the impact of
anti-trafficking measures on human rights around the world’. The report documents a wide
range of examples of how anti-trafficking policies negatively affect the people they are
supposed to benefit. These concerns, and the need for policies that respect the human
rights of all people affected by trafficking and anti-trafficking policies, gave rise to the
development of this tool.

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What should be the role for border controls in anti-trafficking responses, if there should be one at all? Heightened border security is increasing risks in the migration process. Many people decide that despite barriers and risks they must cross a border for survival, either in terms of economics or safety. In many cases, at border crossings, it is not possible for practitioners to tell if people are being strictly trafficked or whether they fall in another migration category, yet the risks created by border systems and the violations experienced by individuals at borders are not to be left out of conversations on trafficking and of migrants’ rights more broadly.

The latest issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review includes eight peer-reviewed articles on how anti-trafficking measures play out in border zones.

Download the 2nd Issue of the Review

Table of Contents

Read More

This special issue of Dialectical Anthropology aims to critically examine how human trafficking discourses, laws, and interventions complicate efforts to define, address, and engage with the vulnerable populations that are captured by this policy typology. While billions of dollars have been spent globally on research, advocacy, and law enforcement efforts around anti-trafficking discourses, socio-legal institutions, and policy discussions during the last 15 years, there continues to be very little research that problematizes issues of agency, consent, identity, individual autonomy, and social governance, and even less that actually presents the empirical realities and quotidian experience of those who are counted as “trafficking victims.” As anthropologists this worries us, but also provides a space in which we believe we are uniquely qualified to ask the research questions, collect the data, and make the critical analysis that can put the life worlds of those individuals back into the picture.

Table of contents (some articles available, Open Access)

Read More

Acosta, Imee C. and Alexander S. Acosta (2013): In Pain and in Wail: A phenomenology of the abuses of the Filipino Domestic Workers, Qatar

Full article available here 


Abuse is a common problem among domestic workers. Many are trapped in highly exploitative situations with limited, strenuous escape options and negligible support from the host country and labor sending country. With the participation of a select group of Filipino domestic workers who are housed in OWWA shelter Doha, Qatar, this phenomenological inquiry afforded to categorically classify three forms of abuses namely: corruptive, confrontative, and coercive that generate a ripple of consequences known as effectual damage and affectual damage respectively. The lebenswelt of the underprivileged domestic workers is a primordial source to raise awareness about the abuses and their effects and to encourage collective action such as implementing change as regards to labor policies and procedures, policy formulations, and human resource capacity building programs as means to reviving the human dignity and wellbeing of women in the informal employment.

Kempadoo, Kamala (2007): The War on Human Trafficking in the Caribbean” Race and Class Vol. 49. no 2, pp. 79-84


Encouraged by the US, the Caribbean is being drawn into a global panic over human trafficking, leading to greater policing and surveillance of migrant women and the sex trade. Drawing on colonial precedents, the moral outrage about women trafficked into prostitution, embodied in legislation such as the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act, obscures the deeper causes of exploitation and oppression and leads to the demonisation of those in undocumented, hyper-exploited labour forces. Moreover, the false equation of trafficking with prostitution renders sexual labour as coerced labour and, as such, misrepresents sexual agency.

Lee, Samuel and Persson, Petra, Human Trafficking and Regulating Prostitution (July 11, 2012). NYU Stern School of Business EC-12-07; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 12-08. Available at SSRN: or

Full article available here.

The effect of prostitution laws on human trafficking and voluntary prostitution is subject to debate. We argue theoretically that neither legalization nor criminalization can simultaneously protect voluntary prostitutes and unambiguously reduce trafficking. We propose a novel, “hybrid” policy that achieves both objectives and restores the free market outcome that arises in the absence of trafficking. If a regulator aims to eradicate all prostitution instead, the optimal policy criminalizes all johns. Criminalizing prostitutes is ineffective and unjust because it fails to eradicate trafficking and penalizes victims. We consider cross-border trafficking, sex tourism, social norms, and political support for prostitution laws. The model predicts that the female-male income ratio is a key determinant of what share of prostitutes is trafficked, the consequences of prostitution laws, and the political will to enact or enforce them.

Brennan, Denise. “Key Issues in the Resettlement of Formerly Trafficked Persons in the United States.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Special Edition: “Trafficking in Sex and Labor: Domestic and International Responses. 158.6 (2010): 1581-1608.

Full article available here. 

The article presents a study of how individuals who worked under forced labor in the U.S. have rebuilt their lives. It focuses on the struggles within the resettlement process among person whom recognized by the U.S. government as being trafficked. It details on how individuals who were controlled under threats and violence have regained from opression. Moreover, it emphasized the labor exploitation structure and process not just limited to forced laborers but also to low-waged migrant workers.


Abramo, C.W., & Madej, J. (2013): A Thing of the Present: Contemporary Challenges in Battling
Slavery and Human Trafficking. An Interview with Dr Aidan McQuade; Director of Anti-Slavery International, in: Merkourios : Utrecht Journal of International and European Law, vol. 29, iss. 77, pp. 76 – 80.

This work has been licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0)

Full interview:

In an increasingly globalized society, many individuals travel outside of their home countries to find employment–what are the greatest challenges to ensuring that states respect the rights and particular vulnerabilities of migrant workers?How are these challenges particular to the vulnerabilities of female migrant workers?

There are a number of vulnerabilities for migrant workers. First there are limited options for safe migration and these options are even more limited for poor people from socially excluded
communities. Second many countries maintain rather xenophobic migration regimes. These
can be exploited by unscrupulous employers to exclude migrants from the basic protections of
rule of law. Third many poor countries don’t take the welfare of their migrating citizens seriously
and don’t, for example, assign labour attaches to the embassies of countries to which their citizens travel for work, to assist with standing up for their rights.

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Johansson, Isabelle (21013): “Do ut des”: An anthropological study on the agendas of  ’anti’-trafficking measures in Italy.

Full paper available here.  

Trafficking in human beings is a topic that has received a lot of attention the last ten years. It
has been referred to as a modern form of slavery and a crime against humanity. There is a
flood of actors working to fight trafficking and save its victims, occupied with different forms
of victim assistance. At the same time the European Union is augmenting restrictions on visas
and asylum legislation, border controls and deportations, which makes migrants from certain
countries who wish to travel to Europe despite these restrictions vulnerable to exploitation.
Italy has been acknowledged for providing the best practice of protection for ‘victim of
trafficking’, since it offers a residence permit developed especially for identified ‘trafficking
victims’. Claiming victimhood is often the only way for irregular migrant women in the sex
industry to obtain a legal status in contemporary Italy. However, the category and its legal and
social benefits are out of reach to many. It is not possible to just claim to be a victim but one
must do so by surrendering to certain ideas about what constitutes a ‘victim of trafficking’ and
provide what it expected. This study will examine the interconnection between migration
management and trafficking anthropologically, with a focus on ‘anti’-trafficking measures in
Italy and the concept of victimhood in the practices who take on the women who are in the
process of obtaining the legal status of ‘victims of trafficking’ and the following residence
permit. By looking at trafficking from a structural perspective I will show how the ‘victim of
trafficking’ is created, and how it is connected to the state and its migration policies.

Sharma, Nadita (2003): Travel Agency: A Critique of Anti-Trafficking Campaigns, in: Refuge. Vol 21, No 3 (2003).

Full article available here.

This paper offers a critical evaluation of anti-trafficking campaigns spearheaded by some in the feminist movement in an attempt to deal with the issues of unsafe migrations and labour exploitation. I discuss how calls to “end trafficking, especially in women and children” are influenced by – and go on to legitimate – governmental practices to criminalize the self-willed migration of people moving without official permission. I discuss how the ideological frame of anti-trafficking works to reinforce restrictive immigration practices, shore up a nationalized consciousness of space and home, and criminalize those rendered illegal within national territories. Anti-trafficking campaigns also fail to take into account migrants’ limited agency in the migration process. I provide alternative routes to anti-trafficking campaigns by arguing for an analytical framework in which the related worldwide crises of displacement and migration are foregrounded. I argue that by centering the standpoint of undocumented migrants a more transformative politics emerges, one that demands that people be able to “stay” and to “move” in a self-determined manner.

Andrijasevic, Rutvica and Anderson, Bridget (2009). Anti-trafficking campaigns: decent? honest? truthful?, in: Feminist Review, 92(1), pp. 151–156

Full article available here

A passenger arriving at London airports and passing the immigration check is greeted by anti-trafficking posters that tell the story of deceit and forced prostitution and call on
passengers to seek help from the immigration officers in case they have been brought into
the UK against their will. Once in the UK, one is confronted with similar campaigns but
this time of a slightly different message; a campaign such as Blue Blindfolds calls on the
general public across the UK to share any suspicions or information on cases of
trafficking with the police or the Home Office.
During the last decade, anti-trafficking information campaigns have played a prominent part in anti-trafficking policies  throughout Europe. They have for the most part been launched in migrants’ counties of origin with the idea of warning migrants about the dangers of irregular migration.
Scholars have taken interest in those campaigns and argued that despite the best
intentions, those campaigns aim at reducing irregular migration, encourage women to
stay at home, promote stereotypes about ‘eastern’ European societies as patriarchal and
crime-ridden and of women as naïve victims (Nieuwenhuys and Pécoud, 2007; Sharma,
2003). Feminist scholars have moreover put into question the category of a ‘victim’,
critiqued a slippage between ‘illegal immigration’, ‘forced prostitution’, and ‘trafficking’,
and argued that these conflations divert attention from the role of the state (O’Connell
Davidson, 2006).

Kelly Karvelis,The Asylum Claim for Victims of Attempted Trafficking, 8 Nw.J. L. & Soc.Pol’y. 274 (2012).
Full paper available here:
The state of the law regarding refugees in the United States has been
characterized in the recent past by inconsistent rulings among the Circuit Courts, and
narrow applications of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which provides the
basis for asylum eligibility. In the midst of this sometimes-contradictory application of
the INA, victims of attempted sex trafficking (those who have faced threats or attempts by
sex traffickers to force them into sexual slavery) have consistently been rejected for
asylum by U.S. courts. Federal courts have uniformly denied these asylum claims by
ruling that these victims do not meet the INA’s requirement that refugees fall into a
particular social group. Therefore, this Comment focuses largely on the argument that
U.S. courts have interpreted the “social group” provision in an unduly narrow fashion,
and that victims of attempted trafficking do indeed satisfy this element of the INA’s test
for asylum eligibility. This Comment argues that U.S. courts’ rejections of these asylum
claims are inconsistent with the legislative intent behind the Immigration and Nationality
Act of 1952, federal case law that has granted asylum petitions in similar contexts, and
the United Nations’ and international interpretations of refugee law. Based on these
reasons and public policy concerns, U.S. courts should recognize the valid claims of
many of these victims of attempted trafficking, and grant them the asylum that they

Ildikó Pallmann und Anne Pawletta (2011) Menschenhandel zum Zweck der Arbeitsausbeutung – ein Thema für Gewerkschaften?

Full article available here (pp. 177).

Human trafficking for forced labor purposes is receiving more and more attention in the public discourse on human trafficking. In this article, we will address a number of questions regarding the work done by trade unions to counteract human trafficking for forced labor purposes, beginning with some thoughts on why unions are active in this field. What examples exist for successful union involvement?
And what difficulties might prevent a stronger and more substantial commitment by unions? Many cases of human trafficking occur in sectors with a low rate of unionization, or areas like domestic services, which are generally difficult for unions to reach. The gap between unions and the sectors that are especially important is increased by a number of unions clinging to “old” traditional industries. Also, many of the people in question are migratory workers. In this article, we will analyze the innovative approaches used by unions to overcome these difficulties – for instance, by organizing migratory workers in unions or union-affiliated associations, and offering low-threshold advice for people who could be potentially affected.

Bravo, Karen E., Free Labor! A Labor Liberalization Solution to Modern Trafficking in Humans (August 13, 2008). Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems, 2009. Available at SSRN:

According to varied sources, 27 million people worldwide are enslaved and 4 million individuals are trafficked annually across international borders, including 17,500 people into the United States. The trade in human beings has significant ramifications for international human rights, international criminal law, and the global economy. Despite the expenditure of a great deal of intellectual, economic, psychological, and other resources to prevent and punish the traffic in human beings, the trade appears to grow annually in scope. Read More

Mohammad Ismail Bhuiyan (2013): Reasonable Wages for Workers to Eliminate Unrest in Bangladesh’s Ready-made Garments (RMG) Sector, in: The Bangladesh Development Research Working Paper Series (BDRWPS) 13.

This paper summarizes the main causes of unrest in Bangladesh’s ready-made garments (RMG) sector and how they can be resolved. It provides some background on the degree of unrest in Bangladesh’s RMG sector, focusing on six major unrests during December 2010 and June 2012 and provides some information on conflict resolution processes. The paper is based on interviews with RMG workers, management, and factory owners. It shows that low and discriminating wages are the main underlying factor of unrest in the RMG. Hence, wages should be given top most priority to evade unrest in the RMG factories, followed by the implementation of labor rights.

Armstrong, Andrea C., Slavery Revisited in Penal Plantation Labor (April 5, 2012). 35 Seattle University Law Review 835 (2012); Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper No. 2012-06. Available at SSRN:


The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, but contains an exception for convicted prisoners. Scholars who have interrogated the prisoner-labor exception have wrongly concluded that prisoners may constitutionally be subjected to slavery (not just involuntary servitude). Courts have simply construed prisoners’ laborcomplaints as involuntary servitude, failing to distinguish between the two concepts. Similarly, the public has failed to discuss the types of labor we expect from the incarcerated. The lack of attention to prison-created slavery is particularly problematic in the current economy. States, facing increasing budget deficits, are turning to inmatelabor to produce additional revenue, or at a minimum, offset the cost of imprisonment.

Based both upon the text and history of the Thirteenth Amendment, this article argues that prisoners may only be subjected to conditions approximating involuntary servitude. When a prisoner experiences “social death,” i.e. the chattelizing of a person through the ritual or symbolic social degradation and exclusion, the prisoner is subjected to constitutionally prohibited conditions approximating slavery. In addition, the imposition of slavery on prisoners constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. The article applies these concepts to the history and operation of a modern-day penal plantation, Louisiana State Penitentiary. Last, the article concludes that a broader public discussion of the re-creation of slavery behind prison walls can lead to other positive outcomes, including enhanced legitimacy of the criminal justice system.

Congdon Fors, Heather Child Labor: A Review of Recent Theory and Evidence with Policy Implications, in: Journal of Economic Surveys Volume 26, Issue 4, pages 570–593.

Full article available here (earlier version).


In recent years, a growing number of authors have turned their attention to the question
of why children work. The purpose of this paper is to review some of the more recent theoretical
and empirical research into the topic of child labour, and to illustrate the fact that no one factor on
its own can account for the phenomenon of child labour. Therefore, policies aimed at eradicating
child labour will need to address the broad range of underlying factors that contribute to the
incidence of child labour, such as poverty, market imperfections and access to education.

x:talk project (2010): Human rights, sex work and the challenge of trafficking. Human rights impact assessment of anti-trafficking policy in the UK, London.

This report was produced by the x:talk project and the main findings reflect the experiences and views of people working in the sex industry in London. The x:talk project is a grassroots sex worker rights network made up of people working in the sex industry and allies. In addition to providing free English classes to migrant sex workers, we support critical interventions around issues of migration, race, gender, sexuality and labour, we participate in feminist and anti-racist campaigns and we are
active in the struggle for the rights of sex workers in London, the UK and globally. The x:talk project has been developed from our experiences as workers in the sex industry. x:talk is sex worker-led not because we think that being a ‘sex worker’ is a fixed identity, but because we believe that
those who experience the material conditions of the sex industry are in the best position to know how to change it.
This report demonstrates that for the human rights of sex workers to be protected and for instances of trafficking to be dealt with in an effective and appropriate manner, the co-option of anti-trafficking discourse in the service of both an abolitionist approach to sex work and an anti-immigration agenda has to end. Instead there needs to be a shift at the policy, legal and administrative levels to reflect an understanding that the women, men and transgender people engaged in commercial sexual services are engaged in a labour process. The existing focus in anti-trafficking policy on migration, law enforcement and on the sex industry does not address the needs, choices and agency of trafficked people, whether they work in the sex industry or elsewhere, and prevents migrant and non-migrant people working in the sex industry from asserting fundamental rights.

Chuang, Janie A., Rescuing Trafficking from Ideological Capture: Prostitution Reform and Anti-Trafficking Law and Policy (May 1, 2010). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 158, 2010. Available at SSRN: (Full paper available)

In the decade since it became a priority on the United States’ national agenda, the issue of human trafficking has spawned enduring controversy. New legal definitions of “trafficking” were codified in international and U.S. law in 2000, but what conduct qualifies as “trafficking” remains hotly contested. Despite shared moral outrage over the plight of trafficked persons, debates over whether trafficking encompasses voluntary prostitution continue to rend the anti-trafficking advocacy community – and are as intractable as debates over abortion and other similarly contentious social issues. Attempts to equate trafficking with slavery invite both disdain and favor: they are often rejected for their insensitive and legally inaccurate conflation with transatlantic slavery yet simultaneously embraced for capturing the moral urgency of addressing this human rights problem. The anti-trafficking movement itself has been attacked by those who believe it is built on specious statistics concerning the problem’s magnitude and by others who think it undermines human rights goals by drawing attention away from migrants’ rights and efforts to combat slavery in all its contemporary forms.
Read More

Bernstein, Elizabeth. “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Anti-Trafficking Campaigns,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, special issue on Feminists Theorize International Political Economy, guest edited by Kate Bedford and Shirin Rai (2010): 36:1, 45-71.

A previous version of the article is available here:

Bernstein, Elizabeth (2012): Sex, Trafficking, and the Politics of Freedom 

Berger, Stephanie, No End in Sight: Why the ‘End Demand’ Movement is the Wrong Focus for Efforts to Eliminate Human Trafficking (2012). Harvard J of Law and Gender, Vol. 35, 2012. Available at SSRN:

There is no dispute that human trafficking is a pervasive problem. The International Labor Organization and the United States State Department estimate that there are more than 12 million people in “forced labor and sexual servitude” worldwide. The State Department estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually. Sex trafficking, specifically, undoubtedly occurs in the United States — all one needs to do is read the local newspaper to find horrific accounts of women and children enslaved and abused in major cities across the country. However, there is no way to know exactly how many trafficking victims in general and sex trafficking victims specifically exist in the United States, in part due to the United States’ problematic conflation of human trafficking and prostitution. This conflation has enshrined the ideals of abolitionist feminists, who believe that prostitution is inherently coercive and abusive, and has refused to acknowledge the pro-work position that views prostitution on a spectrum including both forced and voluntary sex work. Abolitionist ideals have most recently taken hold in End Demand efforts, which focus on criminalizing, punishing, and shaming men who buy sex as purported solutions to both prostitution and human trafficking. This Article takes a pro-work position and aims to demonstrate the potential harms of End Demand policies. It also proposes more productive methods for addressing human trafficking in the United States.

Gulati, Jeff, News Frames and Story Triggers in the Media’s Coverage of Human Trafficking (July 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: or


Since 2000, there has been a flurry of policy activity to address the problem of human trafficking. What makes these recent efforts especially intriguing is the wide consensus that has formed in the United States and most of the international community on the nature of the problem and the appropriate policy response even though there is considerable disagreement among scholars and activists over definitions of trafficking and how best to address the problem. None of the scholarship to this point has analyzed how the media have covered human trafficking, however, and whether the media have helped to legitimize the consensus among policymakers while marginalizing alternative views that also might be critical of official policy. To examine the U.S. media’s coverage of human trafficking, all relevant articles in The New York Times and Washington Post between 1980 and 2006 (N=605) were content analyzed for story trigger, country focus, issues cited, and sources used. The results of the content analysis largely correspond to theoretical expectations by showing that the coverage has relied mostly on official sources and framed in a way that has mirrored the dominant view of trafficking. Yet, the analysis also shows that articles initiated by journalists are more likely to break away from the official frame and report alternative views in their coverage of human trafficking than articles generated from traditional news beats.

Brown, Drusilla K.; Deardorff, Alan V.; Stern, Robert M. (2012): Labor Standards and Human Rights: Implications for International Trade and Investment, International Policy Center (IPC) – Working Paper Series.

Full article available here.


The establishment of international labor standards linked to market access within the WTO is among the proposals intended to remedy the gross violations of labor and human rights that accompany international trade and investment. Yet, the WTO Charter and, previously, the GATT are virtually silent on the potential inhumanity of globally integrated goods and services markets. Despite intense pressure from the United States and the European Union, the Singapore Ministerial Declaration (December 1996), while acknowledging the importance of international labor standards, identified the International Labor Organization (ILO) as the competent body to establish and monitor labor standards. However, advocates for international labor standards ultimately gained access to the process of rules-setting in the WTO indirectly through Article XXIV governing the creation of customs unions and free trade agreements and, more importantly, the 1971 GSP Decision permitting special and differential treatment of developing country exports. Thus, contrary to the WTO Ministerial dictates, labor standards are now routinely enforced by the prospective loss of preferential tariff concessions and market access. We discuss in this context a mechanism for linking ILO-established labor standards, monitoring by the ILO, and enforcement through the threat of lost trade concessions that emerged fully operational in the 1999 U.S.-Cambodia Bilateral Textile Trade Agreement. Under this agreement, the United States provided Cambodia access to US markets by giving expanded apparel and textile quotas conditional on improved working conditions in the garment sector. We also discuss the labor and human-rights issues that emerge in a globalizing world economy, the market failures that produce labor and human-rights violations, and the role of labor standards in mitigating the most grievous of consequences. We then discuss the evidence on the impact that labor standards have on trade, firm behavior and investment, and on workers, and whether or not there is a race to the bottom, which we conclude not to be the case.

Zbigniew Dumienski (2012): Myths and Reality of Human Trafficking: A View from Southeast Asia.

Human trafficking is commonly seen as a heinous transnational crime affecting millions of migrants from all parts of the globe. According to the US government there are as many as 12.3 million victims of human trafficking world-wide and trafficking is a tremendous, multi-billion-dollar business run by both small networks of traffickers and, increasingly, by “large polycrime international criminal organizations” (US Department of State 2010). One could say that these are very alarming developments and that the authors of the preceding claims should be thanked and congratulated for bringing them so forcibly to public attention. The only problem is that it is difficult to find evidence that any of the above is true. More nuanced research that reveals that the complexity of the phenomenon of human trafficking is necessary. This article is an attempt to critically evaluate the concept of human trafficking and highlight the challenges and limitations of anti-trafficking campaigns. A critical perspective on these issues is both timely and needed, as more and more funds and energy are invested in this world-wide struggle.

Lobasz, Jennifer K.(2009) ‘Beyond Border Security: Feminist Approaches to Human Trafficking’, Security Studies, 18: 2, 319 — 344. (Full article available here)

International human trafficking—sometimes referred to as modern-day slavery—has increasingly come to be seen as a security threat. The question remains as to what kind of threat human trafficking poses. Traditional security approaches to international human trafficking call for analysis of trafficking as a threat to the
state and to state control of borders. Traditional security analyses of trafficking therefore emphasize border security, migration controls, and international law enforcement cooperation. Feminist analyses of human trafficking challenge the traditional security framework, prioritizing the security of trafficked persons and recognizing the manner in which victims are threatened by both traffickers and the state itself. I argue that feminist approaches to human trafficking are essential for understanding and combating the phenomenon.
Feminists identify the ethical and pragmatic grounds for broadening the analytical focus from states to people. Feminists’ most important contribution, however, lies in the investigations of the social construction of human trafficking, which highlight the destructive role that sexist and racist stereotypes play in constructing the category of trafficking victims.

Bridget, Anderson, Julia O’Connell Davidson (2003): Is trafficking in human beings demand driven? A multi-country pilot study, IOM. Full article available. 

Executive Summary

The ASEM Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2001), stressed the need to encourage research on the demand for the most common forms of exploitation of trafficked women and children, in particular for commercial sex services, and recommended a multi-country study into the
demand side of trafficking as one of its follow-up actions.

In response to this recommendation, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and Save the Children Sweden, commissioned the authors to coordinate a pilot research study on the demand underlying two sectors where the labour/services of trafficked persons are known to be subject to exploitation: prostitution and domestic work. This report sets out some of the findings of the pilot study and ongoing research concerning employer demand for domestic workers in private households, and consumer demand for commercial sexual services in selected European and Asian countries.
The research discussed in this report suggests that three related factors are key to explaining the exploitative conditions experienced by many migrant domestic and sex workers: (a) The unregulated nature of the labour market segments in which they work; (b) the abundant supply of exploitable labour and (c) the power and malleability of social norms regulating the behaviour of employers and clients. The continued expansion of any unregulated market is likely to require and facilitate the exploitation of vulnerable labour. Both paid sex and domestic work are peculiar market segments in the sense that there is both political and social unease regarding those who buy and sell in them as workers or consumers/employers. In both sex and domestic work, the absence of effective regulation is one of the factors that help to create an environment in which it is possible and profitable to use unfree labour.

Bhabha, Jacqueline and Monette Zard.  2006.  “Smuggled or Trafficked?”  Forced Migration Review, no. 25 (May): 6-8.  URL:

The UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (TNC) and its two Protocols on Trafficking and
Smuggling, adopted in 2000, seek to distinguish between trafficking and smuggling. In reality these distinctions are often blurred. A more nuanced approach is needed to ensure protection for all those at risk.

Gallagher, Anne.  2002.  “Trafficking, Smuggling and Human Rights: Tricks and Treaties.” Forced Migration Review, no. 12 (January): 25-28.  URL:

Through the adoption of two new treaties on trafficking and migrant smuggling, states are
attempting to curb the growing influence of organised criminal groups on international migration. The risk of human rights being marginalised in this process is, unfortunately, a very real one.


Full article available.

In this article I point to some common pitfalls and particular challenges in research on human trafficking. I start out by presenting some of the challenges in identifying observable populations and behaviours, arguing that primary data collection in the trafficking field should focus on former victims, and not current victims or persons at risk. Thereafter I discuss some of the factors that have inhibited the development and use of explicit operational definitions of trafficking. Third, I present some of the challenges in identification of trafficking victims, when the victims themselves do not want to identify with the trafficking label. Finally, the usefulness of different research strategies in the trafficking fields for the current knowledge-needs is discussed.

The article concludes that there will always be some limitations and biases in empirical research in the trafficking field. However, as long as we acknowledge these limitations and make them explicit in our research, sound empirical research that enhances our knowledge in this field is possible. The best potential for good quality research lies in small-scale, thematically focused empirical studies, while attempts to describe worldwide trafficking across regions and arenas is less likely to be successful.