Representations of Transnational Human Trafficking

  • Commission on Higher Education
  • 2020-06-22 09:14:54
  • 316

This collection’s various studies examine representations of human trafficking (henceforth HT), traffickers, and victims in media ranging from British and Serbian newspapers, British and Scandinavian crime novels, and a documentary series, before questioning the extent to which these portrayals actually reflect the realities of trafficking. We show that media reporting on HT matters, and is impactful; HT victims are idealised, with those not according to this ideal being criminalised. Selected official source aspects of HT take priority over others that are neglected, and hence frame HT in problematic ways. Instead, fictional and factional representations of this crime can be better used as tools with which change in HT victim treatment can be engendered. Our studies focus on news articles, crime fiction, and documentaries published and released post-2000, the year in which the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Protocol to the Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, on trafficking (nicknamed the Palermo Protocol), was passed, and covers a time period in which the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed and the refugee and migrant crisis spread across Europe. Whilst we primarily focus on British news, fiction, and documentaries, we have also included Scandinavian crime fiction and Serbian news to facilitate comparisons with, respectively, a literary tradition that focuses on social realist themes (Brunsdale, 2016), and news from a country affected by trafficking in three dimensions (origin, transfer, and destination) and on the route of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq (European Commission, 2017). We adopt the definition of trafficking set out in the Anti-Slavery International RACE Project report on ‘Trafficking for Forced Criminal Activities and Begging in Europe’ (2014, p. 86): Trafficking involves bringing people away from the communities in which they live and forcing them into work against their will using violence, deception or coercion. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved: simply transporting them into exploitative conditions constitutes trafficking. This definition follows the UN (Palermo) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNODC, 2016, passed in 2000). We acknowledge that this definition is problematic, as its terms are difficult to define, and it is difficult to establish where the thresholds of the lack of consent, and the level of deception, exploitation, coercion, and movement are located. Previous research on the representations of HT shows that these narratives are often overly focused on only one form of HT and one particular type of victim, with the highly damaging effect of ignoring or even criminalising (other) victims of other types of HT. As such, we are critical of representations that serve to limit those forms of exploitation, force, deception, or movement, that are considered ‘proper’ forms of HT, and that serve to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ victims of HT. We argue that the characteristics of the HT narrative sustain the global structures that make people vulnerable to being trafficked in the first place. These include gender and wealth inequality, and the geopolitical power balance that primarily benefits the global West. This introductory chapter first examines the commonly accepted definitions and narratives of HT, as found in previous studies. It then traces the effects of these stories on those vulnerable people who are trafficked, or smuggled and exploited at their destinations. Finally, it considers the global inequalities that are perpetuated by these narratives, before this collection’s chapters are outlined.

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