Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
human trafficking, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, trafficking, labor rights, human rights, policy, sex work, womens rights, neoliberalism, neoconvservatism
In recent years, the issue of “human trafficking,” or what some have deemed “modern slavery” has become increasingly salient in the United States. No doubt, human trafficking is a major humanitarian crisis, with the International Labor Organization estimating some 5.4 victims caught in trafficking networks for every 1,000 people in the world. And yet, the dominant discourse in the US tends to allude solely to the sex trafficking of women. This sex trafficking hysteria in the United States is the backdrop of my research.
This Senior Thesis examines how anti-trafficking organizations leave out survivors by addressing human trafficking through selective cases of women’s sex trafficking, effectively framing trafficking as an issue of sexual morality rather than a product of oppressive political, legal, and economic systems. Anti-trafficking NGOs have adopted restrictive and stereotypical portrayals of the “deserving” trafficking victim as a young, sexually exploited woman, rendered powerless at the hands of evil deviants. When outsourcing their humanitarian efforts abroad, NGOs frequently represent women from non-Western countries as disempowered, naive, and unable to make the consensual, uncoerced decision to join the sex industry, maintaining harmful practices such as brothel raids. I frame the exclusionary narratives used by anti-trafficking NGOs against a backdrop of deep and expanding neoconservative and neo-abolitionist ideologies and policies in the United States. I argue that anti-trafficking organizations would better assist those affected by trafficking and forced labor by adopting a labor approach that recognizes the exploited individual as an exploited worker rather than a sexually objectified victim.
Pennybacker, Spencer, "The Harmful Prioritization of “Sex Trafficking” in U.S. Anti-Trafficking Discourse" (2021). Honors Theses. 2406.