The Boundaries of Belonging: Gender, Human Trafficking and Embodied Citizenship

A ‘victim of trafficking’ is an identity that an individual can adopt to access legal resources that would otherwise not be open to them. However, this identity contains certain implicit assumptions about that individual and their experiences. This article analyses 12 applications for a one-year visa, written by women from the former Soviet Union who were trafficked to Israel and forced to sell sex. To apply for a visa as a ‘victim of trafficking’ applicants assert certain narrative tropes to emphasise their desire to belong in Israel. These tropes obscure the complexities of their experiences by emphasising themes of naivety and innocence, a commitment to familial obligations and a lack of agency. They reject the alternative identity of a migrant sex worker and distance themselves from any implication of a desire to illegally cross national borders. When they describe their hopes for the future, they assert normative gendered desires to marry and have children. This article argues that by closely aligning themselves with gender norms, these women seek to respond to conceptualisations of individuals who transgress gender and moral norms and who pose a threat to national borders and integrity.

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