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Domestic matters: violence against women and human trafficking

The relationship between violence against women (VAW) and human trafficking is often taken for granted. Historic ties between the sexual exploitation of women, prostitution and trafficking resulted in a framework in which the two became intrinsically linked. Human trafficking is frequently subsumed under VAW, as in the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, while anti-trafficking campaigners, to varying degrees, re-tell trafficking victim stories through individual experiences of VAW. For instance, NotForSale, a US-based campaign group, relies on the imagery created through a victim’s subjection to violence and abuse: “Shaking with fear, the girls went into separate bedrooms, where the portly men raped them.” Hyperbole may reinforce a specific image of trafficking heavily reliant on situations of (predominately) women raped and abused in forced prostitution. The reality is that violence and the threat of violence, including psychological and emotional abuse, are recognized indicators of coercion – for all victims of trafficking. As a result, we often lose sight of an opportunity to examine the full range of actions, causes and consequences between these intersecting forms of victimization. Although this post is concerned with women, the violence and abuse experienced by men in situations of trafficking is an area for future examination. (more…)

The cost of emotive language

Another anti-trafficking event; another tear-streaked verse of “We Shall Overcome”. Nothing divides a conference like the predictable videography of trafficked individuals set to music. The reaction is palpable, split between professionals working in the field (those who’ve begrudgingly attended) who avert their eyes out of embarrassment or jaded passivity and the newcomers, moved by visual imagery and heartbreaking accounts. Having attended scores of practitioner and advocate conferences on diverse and sensitive issues, including domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence and gangs; never have we been subjected to such emotional appeals in a professional environment as in the field of human trafficking. This is not limited to Singapore, of course. At the Oslo Freedom Forum, Julia Ormond reportedly “ended an otherwise thoughtful talk on supply-chain slavery by singing ‘Amazing Grace’. With an echo effect.” (more…)

Marginalized intersections: the LBGT community and human trafficking

When it comes to creating and politically capitalizing on a narrative constructed around societies’ most marginalized, the field of human trafficking has proven to be a ripe space in which to showcase the “plight” of the most aggrieved. However, in perpetuating a narrow shadow of victimhood, gaps remain in policy and service provision – not to mention research – in the intersections between various potentially underserved groups affected by labor exploitation. In this regard, we are left wondering about the imprint of noticeable silence on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans) community.

Little information is available pertaining to either policies or service provision to assist LGBT trafficked persons, globally or locally. Research in related areas does exist on the intersections between the LGBT communities regarding their status as: migrants, sex workers, even asylum seekers; but the dearth of research regarding the specific relationship between trafficking (or even migrant labor exploitation) and LGBT community speaks volumes. The discourse at large appears to be non-existent from both academia and NGOs. (more…)

Walk the walk: assisting sex workers

Policy interventions intended to address sex trafficking tend to be politically divisive, publically contentious, and plagued by a virtual absence of evaluation. For example: should prostitution be decriminalized, legalized and regulated, or outlawed completely? What about increasing punitive measures for those who purchase sex, or regulating sites of sex work (including anything from brothels to Craigslist)? In all countries, but particularly those that have legalized and regulated prostitution, does it make sense to delineate between “sex work” and “labor”, or even, “sex” and “labor” trafficking? What should be done about migrant sex workers? The answers to these questions subsequently influence a host of conceptual issues we face in framing worker exploitation and rights. Unfortunately, the prevailing view is that sex trafficking will be eradicated just as soon as we figure out how to eliminate prostitution. This perspective tends to dilute broader concerns about exploitation (and trafficking) and overemphasize what the law can do – ignoring myriad other complex factors that lead to policy effectiveness.

Noticeably absent from the conversation is a critical examination of frontline service provision for potentially trafficked persons. (more…)