The Eye of the Beholder: How Bad Data, Scrambles for Funding and Professional Bias Shape Human Trafficking Law and Policy

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Dina Francesca Haynes over at The Interdisciplinary Project on Human Trafficking:

One of the most cumbersome issues stymieing anti-trafficking efforts over the past twelve years since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol and the subsequent US Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA) is that far too much of the discussion has centered on sex. Media, politicians, movies, celebrities, prosecutors, law enforcement and even academics have focused their attention almost exclusively on human trafficking for sex.

So much discussion of human trafficking now centers around sex, most audience members attending a talk or reading about human trafficking expect that sex trafficking will be the focus of discussion, even when the discussion is specifically slated to center on human trafficking into domestic servitude, for example. Because the audience has been primed by the media focus on trafficking for sex, they envision an entirely different sort of “victim” when experts talk to them about human trafficking. The audience is prepared for (and expects to hear about) sex and so other areas of human trafficking are ignored, regardless of the fact that the varieties of ways in which humans have been exploited by traffickers abound. In the United States, for example, victims of human trafficking have been forced into severely exploitative labor (domestic service, nannies, agriculture, factory work; cleaners and maintenance crews); misled about the work that would be available and then trapped by their debt and/or lack of immigration status or visa portability (teachers, welders,); adult sex workers deprived of their earnings and coerced or forced into work that they do not wish to do and children forced into sex work and other types of indentured or forced labor (hair braiding). Internationally, people are trafficked from their countries of origin to countries of destination for all of the foregoing reasons, as well types of forced and indentured labor as yet unknown in the United States (camel jockeys, massage on the beach, inherited servitude). People are also trafficked within the interior of their own countries.

In fact, the ILO estimates that 12.3 million people, possibly a majority of whom are women, are in forced labor at any given time. About one and a half million of these may be forced specifically into sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is horrific, to be sure, and must be addressed. But the foregoing figures would suggest that about thirteen percent of forced labor involves sex. Although not all exploitative labor would rise to the level of human trafficking (which requires that one be severely exploited), most forced labor arguably would. Even if more conservatively viewed, much of the world’s human trafficking market is focused on forced labor for work other than sex, while most of the discussions (and assumptions, and funding) focus on trafficking in humans for sex.

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