Human Trafficking Heroes and Villains. Representing the Problem in Anti-Trafficking Awareness Campaigns

Abstract
Since the declaration by the United Nations that awareness raising should be a key part of efforts to combat human trafficking, government and non-government organizations have produced numerous public awareness campaigns designed to capture the public’s attention and sympathy. These campaigns represent the ‘problem’ of trafficking in specific ways, creating heroes and villains by placing the blame for trafficking on some, whilst obscuring the responsibility of others. This article adopts Bacchi’s ‘what is the problem represented to be?’ framework for examining the politicization of problem representation in 18 anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. It is argued that these campaigns construct a narrow understanding of the problem through the depiction of ‘ideal offenders’. In particular, a strong focus on the demand for commercial sex as causative of human trafficking serves to obscure the problematic role of consumerism in a wide range of industries, and perpetuates an understanding of trafficking that fails to draw a necessary distinction between the demand for labour, and the demand for ‘exploitable’ labour. This problem representation also obscures the role governments in destination countries may play in causing trafficking through imposing restrictive migration regimes that render migrants vulnerable to traffickers.
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