Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

'I Thought I Am Modern Slavery': Giving a Voice to Trafficked Women

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

'I Thought I Am Modern Slavery': Giving a Voice to Trafficked Women

Article excerpt


This paper presents experiences of policy support gathered between December, 2008, and February, 2010, from women who had been trafficked into the United Kingdom (UK). Undertaken as part of wider doctoral study at the University of Hull, formerly trafficked women were asked about their experiences of trafficking and anti-trafficking professionals about their work with victims. The research aim in talking policy with women was to understand how trafficking policy is experienced by women as policy subjects.

The last decade was 'golden' in terms of international-UK cooperation in human trafficking. On the 9th February, 2006, the UK signed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, attached to the United Nations Convention (2000) Against Transnational Organised Crime. This statute defines trafficking as a serious and organised criminal process involving a person's movement by force or deception into exploitative or slavery-like practices (Article 3). On the 17th December, 2008, the UK subsequently ratified the Council of Europe Convention (2005) on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which sets out a Human Rights-led framework of responses for protecting and supporting the presumed victims of a trafficking crime. (3) Of particular relevance is Article 12, which endorses victims' rights to subsistence living through material, safe accommodation, and psychological supports; access to emergency medical treatment; any necessary translation and interpretation services; counselling and rights based information; and legal help (CoE, 2005: Article 12.1 a-e). This package of supports covering 'physical, psychological and social recovery' constitutes the minimum required of ratifying States and provides the policy structure used within fieldwork conversations.

Although this study predates UK endorsement of the European Union Directive (EUP, 2011)--which extends trafficking protection to additional exploitations, for example, of forced marriage--this paper considers the Convention and the Directive in tandem. This comparison is vital since the Directive leads on policy development, and because the new EU Directive and women's views resonate on so many levels. Comparisons are also imperative given a recognised absence of women's voices in the trafficking discourse, and especially in policy support. The purpose of this paper is to present women's perspectives on material help, health care and social support, a perceived culture of disbelieving victims, and family rights. In so doing, women's voices canvass some of the limitations in existing trafficking support. (4)

Before moving to methodology and findings, this paper argues the case for bringing women's voices to this debate.

Absent Voices

Scholars identify global and localised gaps in empirically-led research on the Protocol and the Convention (Salt, 2000; Laczko and Gozdziak, 2005; IOM, 2008). This gap is considered particularly acute in trafficking research with female victims. As Brennan (2005:43) observes for survivors in the United States:

'... they have been voiceless for different reasons: because of fear of reprisals from their traffickers, their stage in the recovery process, and concern that their community of co-ethnics will stigmatize them. Given these obstacles, it is possible that few ex-captives will ever step out from the anonymity of their case managers' offices, to give interviews to researchers, let alone public presentations or press conferences as part of anti-trafficking movement activities.'

This is not to suggest that there is no direct research or representation of survivors' voices. These exist, particularly where trafficking intersects with other more agentic migratory flows. For example, studies have researched experience at the intersection of sex trafficking and migrations for sex work (Andrijasevic, 2003; 2010; Agustin, 2005), at the nexus of economic migration and trafficking for forced labour (Bastia, 2005; (5) Skrivankova, 2006), and on transnational marriage in the context of trafficking (Stepnitz, 2009; De Angelis, forthcoming). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.