Defining Trafficking through Empirical Work: Blurred Boundaries and their Consequences

May-Len Skilbrei and Marianne Tveit (Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies), “Defining Trafficking through Empirical Work: Blurred Boundaries and their Consequences”. Gender Technology and Development, March 2008, Vol.12 No.1, 9-30.


The definition of trafficking in the United Nation (UN) Protocol on Trafficking from 2000 is the starting point of different countries’ definition of trafficking. In Norway, as in other countries, there are still difficulties in identifying victims of trafficking in the day-to-day work of the police, social workers and others. The definitions of and demarcation between human trafficking and human smuggling have grave consequences for legal approaches, policies and help offered. It is thus necessary to continually discuss how to define trafficking if we want the term to be a fruitful tool in framing the phenomenon—which in turn impacts the ability to aid victims, prevent victimization and to prosecute traffickers.

In this article we approach this matter through two qualitative studies among Nigerian women in prostitution in Norway. Their stories are complex and their travels long, and along the way, their migration and prostitution has been organized by different agents. These agents were sometimes human traffickers; other times smugglers of migrants. In this article, we explore which is which, with the definition in UN’s Trafficking Protocol as our starting point. This article is an attempt to analyze the complexities of the women’s situation in order to link theoretical debates on trafficking definitions with women’s lived experiences.

Full text available here.

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