Changing the Conversation about Trafficking and Prostitution
Catherine Nicotera, Guest Contributor
At the start of the twenty-first century, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, identifying human trafficking as a transnational crime. Although the world has gained awareness of the scope of the problem since then, human trafficking remains largely misunderstood. In Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights, Canadian professor Kamala Kempadoo brings together a collection of experts who attempt to untangle myth from fact regarding this complex issue.
Trafficking, migration, and prostitution are frequently conflated, and Lin Chew captures the differences between these overlapping labels in “Reflections by an Anti-Trafficking Activist.” Migrant workers are often vilified for engaging in illegal activity while being simultaneously pitied as victims of trafficking. The result of this vilification is that victims of crimes do not come forward, for fear of being arrested.
Chew tells the story of a South American prostitute who lived in the Netherlands in the 1990s. After witnessing a Polish colleague being coerced into having sex, she went to the police to file a report. The police responded by imprisoning the prostitute as an undocumented worker. The incident causes Chew to ask an important question: how can we support migrant workers in resisting exploitation while still upholding national and international laws?
Throughout the book Feminist Participatory Action Research is frequently mentioned as a useful tool for gathering data to expose the complex reality of human trafficking and involving those most impacted by trafficking in developing adequate solutions. Feminist Participatory Action Research is a way of conducting research that engages the community being studied in identifying problems and finding solutions. Meaningfully engaging so-called victims in the research process is a necessary step to empowering them to become agents of change -- in their own lives and in the lives of others.
While Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered doesn’t contain many actionable suggestions, it does raise thought-provoking questions in an attempt to change the conversation about human trafficking.