The Victim, the Villain and the Rescuer: The Trafficking of Women and Contemporary Abolition

By Faulkner, Elizabeth A. | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, January 2018 | Go to article overview

The Victim, the Villain and the Rescuer: The Trafficking of Women and Contemporary Abolition


Faulkner, Elizabeth A., Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Introduction

Currently, the world is witnessing extraordinary movements of people, legally and illegally across national and international borders (Kapur, 2012: 25). The international legal/criminal justice framework is mirrored by the regional, subregional and national initiatives, law and policies adopted that demonstrate increasing concerns about unregulated migration and profitable underground criminal activities. Additionally, the current refugee crisis in Europe, coupled with fears around trafficking, sexual slavery, extremism and national security have encouraged the proliferation of laws regulating cross-border movements. The expansive legal architecture implemented to prevent illegal and irregular migration has simply created diminished opportunities for legal authorised migration, subsequently prompting the expansion and diversification of markets of clandestine services (Alpes, 2011; Kempadoo et al, 2012; O'Connell Davidson, 2015). This in turn has led to increased focus upon migration, with the overwhelming emphasis placed upon human trafficking or the 'modern slave trade'. The subsequent development of anti-trafficking laws and initiatives globally is illustrative of how migration is continually framed as trafficking, the rhetoric of which has come to dominate contemporary discussions about migration. Equating the migration or movement of all women as human trafficking echoes the fears of the early twentieth century that led to the creation of the international instruments known as the White Slavery Conventions. (1) One thing that remains a constant and has done since the creation of the 'white sexual slavery' instruments in the early Twentieth Century is that the story of human trafficking invariably involves the same actors; the victim, the villain and the rescuer. This paper will critique each of these actors and their construction within the international legal framework of anti-trafficking; highlighting how the discourse has dominated contemporary debates on migration to the detriment of women.

The story of human trafficking invariably involves the same actors; the victim, the villain and the rescuer. However, what is frequently excluded is the influence that this construction has upon female migration and how the perception that women are only capable of falling under the classification of victim is detrimental to women globally. Women migrate for a variety of reasons and whether that migration is legal or illegal they have both the capacity and right to make decisions about their own lives. This paper addresses the influence of the abolitionist movement upon modern-day responses to female migration and to consider if the movement further drives the gender inequalities that plague the migration framework.

After a discussion of the contemporary abolitionist movement, the paper critiques the framing of human trafficking as the 'modern slave trade' and briefly chart the historical origin of human trafficking within international legal frameworks. The paper will then examine the key actors in the dominant narrative of human trafficking, as identified in this paper as the victim, the villain and the rescuer. Applying a gender perspective to the construct of the three key actors is important as it highlights how the narrative disproportionality disadvantages women. Furthermore, this paper suggests that the dominant narrative is problematic because it reduces and obfuscates the reasons why women migrate, only allowing for them to fall into the category of a victim. The international legal framework has chosen to focus upon the rescue of women and children and capture and prosecution of criminal gangs. Finally, the paper proposes that empirically grounded research into why women migrate is needed to challenge the dominance of the rescue narrative and to serve as the foundations to develop strategies to help women access their rights to migrate.

The contemporary abolitionist movement

The first point to address here is what is meant by the contemporary abolitionist movement? …

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