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.
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.
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