Tag Archives: Anti-trafficking campaigns

Ward, Eilís. ‘“Framing Figures” and the Campaign for Sex Purchase Criminalisation in Ireland: A Lakoffian Analysis:’ Irish Journal of Sociology, 1 December 2020.


If the concept of social justice posits equality and fairness between subjects in the social order, then the presence of those subjects within that order must first and foremost be acknowledged. In Ireland’s recent reform of prostitution law contained in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, the presence of the sex worker as a rights-bearing subject or citizen, with access to justice in that capacity, was denied. In this article I focus on the use of data by the neo-abolitionist ‘Turn off the Red Light’ campaign to ‘flatten out’ the complexity of sex workers lives and present the figure of the ‘vulnerable prostituted woman’ and the ‘trafficking victim’: tragic, abject, a necessarily violated person and in need of ‘protection’ from the state. I argue that this data, entering public and political discourse as uncontestable truth, constituted what I call, ‘framing figures’, framing an inevitable outcome and precluding certain subjects from the status of equality and fairness. The data allowed campaigners for the Sex Purchase Ban (SPB), and, in turn the state, to eclipse a social justice approach to sex work, such as proposed by the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland and other actors.

Tyburczy, Jennifer. 2019. ‘Sex Trafficking Talk: Rosi Orozco and the Neoliberal Narrative of Empathy in Post-NAFTA Mexico’. Feminist Formations 31 (3): 95–117.


This article is a case study that draws from three interrelated artifacts from research conducted in Mexico City: an interview with anti-sex trafficking activist Rosi Orozco, the visual rhetoric of iEmpathize, a transnational organization affiliated with the Orozco anti-trafficking network, and Orozco’s 2011 book, Del Cielo al Infierno en un Día. I analyze these artifacts to critique how Orozco, one of the most powerful anti-sex trafficking activists in Mexico City, uses empathy as an affective tool for motivating action. In focusing on these particular artifacts, the objective is to show how empathy can circulate within neoliberal discourses of feeling that are steeped in heteronormative and racialized notions of gender and sexuality. Within sex trafficking discourse in what I refer to as post-NAFTA Mexico, empathy aids in the elision of “prostitution” with “trafficking” and creates visually identifiable “victims” that perpetuate the boom, not just in sex trafficking talk, but in the rescue industry as an economic and cultural force.

Walker, Rebecca, und Treasa Galvin. 2018. „Labels, victims, and insecurity: an exploration of the lived realities of migrant women who sell sex in South Africa“. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal 3 (2): 277–92.

Based on research work among cross-border migrant women who sell sex in South Africa, this paper examines the ways in which the label ‘victim’ of human trafficking ignores the complex realities of human mobility. We argue here that as state legislative and policy measures, in relation to human trafficking, justify the securitisation of borders and the curtailment of migrant rights, an accompanying hegemonic discourse serves to deny the agency of migrant women sex workers. As a result, the linkages between human trafficking and migration are experienced by migrant women sex workers through new layers of vulnerability and insecurity.

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.

Lammasniemi Laura, ‘Anti-White Slavery Legislation and its Legacies in England’ (2017) 9 Anti-trafficking Review.
This paper argues that the foundation of modern anti-trafficking laws in England and Wales was created at the turn of the twentieth century, during the peak of white slavery hysteria. It shows that a series of interrelated legal interventions formed that foundation. While white slavery as a myth has been analysed, this paper turns the focus on legal regulation and shows why it is important to analyse its history in order to understand modern responses to trafficking. It focuses, in particular, on the first legal definition of victims of trafficking, involvement of vigilance associations in law reform, and on restrictions put in place on women’s immigration. Finally, it reflects on how laws enacted at the turn of the twentieth century still resonate with those of today.

Dina Francesca Haynes, The Celebritization of Human Trafficking, in: The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol 653, Issue 1, pp. 25 – 45.


Human trafficking, and especially sex trafficking, is not only susceptible to alluring and sensational narratives, it also plays into the celebrity-as-rescuer ideal that receives considerable attention from the media, the public, and policy-makers. While some celebrities develop enough expertise to speak with authority on the topic, many others are neither knowledgeable nor accurate in their efforts to champion antitrafficking causes. Prominent policy-makers allow celebrity activists to influence their opinions and even consult with them for advice regarding public policies. Emblematic of larger, fundamental problems with the dominant discourse, funding allocations, and legislation in current antitrafficking initiatives in the United States and elsewhere, celebrity activism is not significantly advancing the eradication of human trafficking and may even be doing harm by diverting attention from aspects of the problem and solution that sorely require attention.

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Alison Clancey, Noushin Khushrushahi, and Julie Ham “Do evidence-based approaches alienate Canadian anti-trafficking funders?” Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 3, 2014, pp. 87-108. 


As a sex worker support organisation, SWAN (Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network) Vancouver’s relationship to anti-trafficking funding remains ambivalent, particularly given the history of anti-trafficking measures that have jeopardised the rights of sex workers. In this article, we share how we, as a small grassroots group, attempt to work through these ambivalences in dialogue with donors. Although SWAN Vancouver works with women who are often perceived to be trafficked (i.e. Asian women in sex work), it is rare for members of SWAN Vancouver to come across any case in the sex-work sector that has the hallmarks of trafficking, such as coerced work. Instead, our anti-trafficking work has mainly involved identifying the harms and human rights violations caused by repressive or misguided anti-trafficking measures. We reflect on our dialogue with two Canadian funders (a federal government agency and a national public foundation) that have considerable resources and immense power to influence what anti-trafficking practices are implemented in Canada. We analyse how these two funders and their adoption of an anti-prostitution analysis of trafficking will likely result in punitive consequences for immigrant sex workers, and therefore increase the need to assist women who have been anti-trafficked rather than trafficked.


What do discourses about prisons, trafficking and “prostitution” have in common? This paper analyses the ideological framework of social movements with respect to the rhetorical deployment of abolitionism. Critical to all of these movements is the concept of abolishing slavery. After tracing “the new abolitionism” of trafficking and prostitution back to the 19th Century Anglo American temperance movement, this paper will address the following: How are these social movements impacted by considerations of (social) class, religious fervor, gender, sexuality, citizenship, race, and ethnicity? Who is speaking for whom and why does it matter, politically and ethically? In what ways are today’s opponents of “prostitution” reproducing yesterday’s slogans of “white slavery”? It is argued that there are some fundamental differences between contemporary anti-prison movements and the anti-sex industry movement. Prisoners’ rights activists focus on the causes of mass incarceration and explore which demands best lead to overall decarceration; penal critics demand excarceration and a complete transformation of the penal system. Those who condemn “prostitution” rely heavily on the prosecution of “pimps” and “johns” with the goal of freeing the girls and women from “sexual slavery.” Finally, the paper will explain in detail why it is misplaced to label the movement against the sex industry as abolitionist rather than, say, prohibitionist.

In the wake of the FBI’s attack on organized prostitution operating out of exclusive call houses in the late 1930s, which, according to J. Edgar Hoover, “had revealed that powerful vice rings operate in almost every large city in the country,” a sex worker named Linda Robertson from Minneapolis wrote a letter to the bureau chief defending her right to engage in prostitution.1 Proclaiming herself to be “a common prostitute. Clean, healthy, in fine physical condition,” she pointed to her educational background, her ability to rationally choose prostitution in a sex-segregated job market, and the fact that her employers looked after her interests as evidence that she provided a service “necessary to our social structure.” Of her customers, she had this to say: “Lawyers, Priests, business-men, social lions, scions of pioneer families, city and state officials and officers of the Law form the bulk of our customers. They demand superior girls and they get them.” She concluded her note by signing off: “So in the future wouldn’t it be more sportsmanlike to leave us to our devices and let those who actually think they have cause arrest us?”2 Robertson believed the FBI’s crackdown on elite call houses to be hopelessly naive, needlessly interventionist, and perhaps hypocritical in that it criminalized what Robertson believed to be a victimless crime; it targeted only the upper echelons of the commercial sex market, which catered exclusively to the wealthy and well-connected customers, like the ones that Robertson described.

Though Hoover suspected the letter might be a hoax, he still shared it with Courtney Ryley Cooper, a well-known journalist of true crime articles [End Page 137] and books who served informally as a publicist for the FBI by working closely with Hoover. From 1933 to 1942 Cooper collaborated with Hoover to polish the public image of the FBI; he operated as “Hoover’s most important ghostwriter of the 1930s” while also publishing books and articles celebrating the work of the FBI under his own name.3 Cooper reprinted the most sensational parts of the letter as the opening vignette in his 1939 exposé of prostitution,Designs in Scarlet. In that vignette, Cooper recalled what Hoover had said when he handed over the letter: “[Note] the viewpoint. The idea that a well-educated, apparently otherwise decent girl may look upon prostitution as an envied profession.”4 Hoover believed that it was the FBI’s responsibility to protect silly girls like Linda Robertson from the venal people who profited from their degradation. In providing Cooper with this letter, Hoover was mounting a defense against those accusing him of unsportsmanlike, or overly interfering, tactics in his antivice campaigns.

The FBI began investigating call house prostitution in the fall of 1935, and Hoover announced a nationwide attack on vice rings—criminal networks devoted to profiting off of prostitution—in February 1936. For the remainder of that year newspapers across the country routinely published articles about the G-men’s daring exploits against organized vice and their targeting of the madams—frequently called “vice queens”—who profited from New York City’s sex marketplace. Sensational headlines abounded: “Blonde Indicted as White Slaver,” “Bad News for Vice Queen,” and “Women Unfold Sordid Story in Slave Case.”5 In the FBI’s telling, Hoover’s FBI sought to protect the hearts of innocent, naive, white girls from the machinations of madams consumed with greed, ambition, and perversity. According to Hoover, these madams were particularly dangerous because they acted as procurers, “inducing the victims to transport themselves interstate” and violating the federal White Slave Traffic Act, commonly known as the Mann Act.6

Continue reading the full article here (with paywall).

Andrijasevic, Rutvica and Anderson, Bridget (2009). Anti-trafficking campaigns: decent? honest? truthful?, in: Feminist Review, 92(1), pp. 151–156

Full article available here

A passenger arriving at London airports and passing the immigration check is greeted by anti-trafficking posters that tell the story of deceit and forced prostitution and call on
passengers to seek help from the immigration officers in case they have been brought into
the UK against their will. Once in the UK, one is confronted with similar campaigns but
this time of a slightly different message; a campaign such as Blue Blindfolds calls on the
general public across the UK to share any suspicions or information on cases of
trafficking with the police or the Home Office.
During the last decade, anti-trafficking information campaigns have played a prominent part in anti-trafficking policies  throughout Europe. They have for the most part been launched in migrants’ counties of origin with the idea of warning migrants about the dangers of irregular migration.
Scholars have taken interest in those campaigns and argued that despite the best
intentions, those campaigns aim at reducing irregular migration, encourage women to
stay at home, promote stereotypes about ‘eastern’ European societies as patriarchal and
crime-ridden and of women as naïve victims (Nieuwenhuys and Pécoud, 2007; Sharma,
2003). Feminist scholars have moreover put into question the category of a ‘victim’,
critiqued a slippage between ‘illegal immigration’, ‘forced prostitution’, and ‘trafficking’,
and argued that these conflations divert attention from the role of the state (O’Connell
Davidson, 2006).