Vulnerable Geographies: Human Trafficking, Immigration and Border Control in the UK and beyond.

Human trafficking inspires strong responses from feminists and other interested parties. This article takes the UK anti-trafficking measures as a case study to explore the interaction between discourses of trafficked women’s vulnerability to sexual harm, and national vulnerability to external threats such as organized crime. Drawing on feminist engagements with human trafficking and commercial sex, my aim is to contribute to these debates. I explore how the government’s moralistic response to trafficking reflects a particular form of regulation that animates new systems of governmentality and biopower. Against this backdrop I attempt to advance feminist perspectives on trafficking by demonstrating the relationality between UK anti-trafficking measures, and its plans to reorganize its regulatory capacity overseas. I suggest an interpretation of UK overseas anti-trafficking measures that foregrounds respatialized border and immigration controls. I show how this kind of regulation works on and through the bodies and behaviours of government actors. I conclude that while aspects of these overseas interventions do go some way to protect trafficked women, they do not operate in isolation of other geopolitical agendas.

Quote from the conclusion:

“Taking the domestic scale first, I focus on how the government makes trafficked women’s bodies and sexuality the terrain, on which it extends its regulatory powers. Specifically, I highlight how it represents trafficking as a gendered form modern-day slavery perpetuated by foreign men against poor women. This framing brings the dynamic interplay of categories of gender and sexual vulnerability into sharp relief. Moreover, it was important for me to consider how the government uses the problem of commercial sex to normalize more invasive forms of social control. I address how the government frames British men’s consumption of trafficked women’s sexual services as a site of national vulnerability to social decline (Sanders 2008). I discuss how the government links British men’s sexual behaviour to foreign organized criminals who respond to domestic demands for trafficked women’s sexual services. According to the government this behaviour undermines the integrity of UK border and immigration control. In a characteristic neoliberal approach, the government devolves responsibility to citizens to become self-regulating, change their sexual behaviour and participate in the work of excluding trafficked women and organized criminals from the UK. Emphasizing the relational constitution of the politics of pity for trafficked women with the politics of risk that organized crime poses to the nation I argue that Foucault’s ideas of governmentality and biopower shed further light on the processes, by which the UK extends its domestic regulatory capacity.

In the second, empirical section of my analysis I strive to connect UK domestic anti-trafficking measures with government plans to reorganize the spatial limits of its governmentality extraterritorially. I discuss how the UK continues to strengthen its commitment to tackling trafficking in source and transit countries via stricter border and immigration control overseas. I show that the government’s preoccupation with building capacity to prevent trafficking ‘at source’ segues into strategic governmentality that stretches UK biopower extraterritorially. I demonstrate how the UK uses development aid as an anti-trafficking strategy. I suggest that couched within UK technical and financial aid to geospecific parts of the world the government normalizes UK extraterritorial capacity building. And finally, I submit that governmentality works through the conduct of conduct. If trafficking source and transit countries wish to benefit from financial aid, then, they must adopt a neoliberal model, police their borders and prevent migrants leaving their shores and troubling the UK.”

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