Examining Social Service Providers’ Representation of Trafficking Victims: A Feminist Postcolonial Lens

Hu, Ran. 2019. ‘Examining Social Service Providers’ Representation of Trafficking Victims: A Feminist Postcolonial Lens’. Affilia, August, 0886109919868832. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109919868832.

As anti-trafficking social service providers (SSPs) facilitate the process of victim recovery and empowerment, they also participate in the dissemination of trafficking-related knowledge to the general public. Drawing on a feminist postcolonial framework, this study sought to examine how anti-trafficking SSPs represent trafficking victims in written narratives published on their organizational websites. Thirty-three narratives were drawn from the websites of 10 New York–based anti-trafficking SSPs. Despite the widespread adoption of a strength-based term, “survivor,” the narratives were found to reinforce a gendered and racialized representation of trafficking victims as sex trafficked women from the “global South” and to (re)produce many “ideal” trafficking victim stereotypes that have been dominating the current discourses of trafficking. A “life transformation” discourse was pervasive, discursively foregrounding the positive impact of the SSPs on trafficking survivors. The findings suggested a need for anti-trafficking SSPs to engage with critical reflection on their positionality and intentionality in representing trafficking victims/survivors and to adopt a survivor-led storytelling paradigm. This study also provided a timely reminder for social work practitioners and researchers to continue to challenge the dominant narratives embedded in their fields of practice, to exercise critical self-reflexivity, and to provide a discursive space for those who have been deprived of voices.

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