Jayashri Srikantiah, “Perfect Victims and Real Survivors: The Iconic Victim in Domestic Human Trafficking Law”, 87 Boston University Law Review 157 (February 2007).
Recent groundbreaking legislation created new immigration relief for victims of human trafficking, who would otherwise be subject to deportation after escape from exploitation. However, few trafficking victims have successfully obtained relief under its provisions. Existing critique has focused on international and domestic definitions of human trafficking and appraisal of the statutory language. This Article explores the problem through a new analytical lens. I suggest that federal agencies implementing the statute have restricted relief based on a flawed understanding of victim volition, under which victims who appear to be under the total control of a trafficker are viewed as worthy of relief, and other victims are rejected as undeserving. Drawing on criminal and domestic violence law as well as immigration legal history, the Article examines the forces animating the regulatory conception of deserving victims as “iconic victims” who are understood to be under a trafficker’s total control, both as to their entry into the United States and as to their subsequent exploitation for forced labor or sex. I posit that the current federal agency approach stems from concerns about differentiating victims from other undocumented migrants and mandating victim participation in the prosecution of traffickers. The Article concludes by suggesting an alternative approach that better engages in the complex factual task of identifying victims.
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