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Responding to Human Trafficking

Responding to Human Trafficking explores how cultural and symbolic frameworks of sex, gender, and prostitution dominate the interpretation and implementation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and provides a detailed ethnography of its ramifications for the persons it is designed to protect.

Responding to Human Trafficking
Sex, Gender, and Culture in the Law

Alicia W. Peters

2015 | 256 pages | Cloth $65.00 | Paper $27.50
Law / Public Policy / Anthropology
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Chapter 1. A Dichotomy Emerges

Chapter 2. The Experts Make Sense of the Law
Chapter 3. "Things That Involve Sex Are Just Different"
Chapter 4. Defining Trafficking Through Survivor Experience

Chapter 5. Intersections on the Ground
Chapter 6. Moving the Antitrafficking Response Forward

A. Data Archiving Requirements and Threats to Confidentiality
B. Interviewees Quoted in the Text


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


The inspiration for this research came to me as I was traveling around Italy during the summer of 2003 researching the movement and migration of Albanian women into sex-related labor in Italy. As it turned out, the migration of Albanian women to Italy, which had been increasing throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, dramatically dropped off in the year leading up to my fieldwork there. A number of factors were responsible for this shift, including a recently signed bilateral agreement between the two nations, increasing awareness by Albanian women of Italy as a destination site for "trafficking," and growing opportunities for cheap labor in other parts of Europe. However, the point that struck me most as I spoke to service providers and government bureaucrats about their work with these women (particularly those who qualified for social services as trafficking victims) was the prominence of Italy's new antitrafficking law, known as Article 18, in forming their understanding of "trafficking" and responses to it. I quickly realized that although my planned study was not going to evolve as I intended it to, a more interesting question had formed in my mind: how does the formation, interpretation, and application of law and policy contribute to the social construction of a socially, morally, and legally loaded issue such as trafficking, and vice versa?

The U.S. Congress had recently passed antitrafficking legislation of its own, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and similar issues were arising in cities throughout the U.S. as service providers, prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and government bureaucrats struggled to understand the significance of the law. My research quickly changed course, and I set out to learn all I could about the law and those involved in its implementation, as well as advocacy efforts around the issue of "trafficking." As a result, I developed the questions driving the research that ultimately became this book and conducted fieldwork between May 2006 and November 2008.

This issue of trafficking is an ideological minefield, and my intention is not to engage in the ideological debates around it. Rather, my goal is to illustrate the ways in which ideology and other cultural and symbolic frameworks are incorporated into the cultural text of the law, through its drafting, interpretation, and implementation. It would be easy to take an ideological stand on the issue, but I believe the more important insights that I offer highlight how the various actors involved conceptualize and talk about the issue, the factors that contribute to their understandings, and the effects on implementation of U.S. antitrafficking law and policy. My goal from the beginning of this research has been to fairly represent all of my informants, not to say which of them is right.

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