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Anorak | Human Trafficking: The White Hollywood Star’s Burden

Human Trafficking: The White Hollywood Star’s Burden

by | 12th, March 2011

Self-styled modern-day abolitionists like Oscar winner Mira Sorvino are doing migrant women no favours

ON the centenary of International Women’s day, in the swanky halls of Lancaster House in London, Oscar-winning actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Mira Sorvino presented an art installation dedicated to victims of human trafficking. Made up of faceless, nude, dull-coloured mannequins trapped behind barbed wire, this conceptual piece of art, unveiled at a launch event for a new UN grants fund for trafficking victims, is not hard to interpret.

The message is that millions of people, mostly women and children, are trapped in dehumanising conditions and are in need of rescue. Queue western celebrities, international development organisations and crime prevention agencies dedicated to combating ‘modern-day slavery’. As Sorvino put it before cutting the ribbon:

“[Trafficking victims] can’t speak for themselves – yet. But that’s what we’re trying to do… The trust fund will hopefully help emancipate them and give them a voice.”

It was a clear expression of how the fight against trafficking is an updated version of the white man’s burden. Anti-trafficking activists may be well-intentioned, but they also tend to regard themselves as noble saviours on a mission to rescue millions of (mostly brown) people, even if those people never voiced any desire to be saved in the first place. By rendering migrants and would-be migrants ‘voiceless’, anti-traffickers can then step in to speak on their behalf.

As a victims’ advocate in the fight against human trafficking, I encourage each and every person to work together in tackling this crime,” Sorvino proclaimed at Lancaster House. Modern-day slavery only exists because we tolerate it.

In truth, all this ‘slavery’ talk is only helping to put migrants into a submissive relationship with a motley crew of celebrities, charities, police forces and feminist activists who have turned ‘human trafficking’ into one of the biggest issues of our time, and who fancy themselves as modern-day abolitionists. But while these self-styled rescuers may get a moral boost from campaigning against ‘modern-day slavery’, there aren’t many clear benefits for the victims they purport to be saving.

Making The Victim

In fact, in the name of trafficking prevention, states have perversely been able to make a humanitarian case for tightening border controls, extending surveillance of foreigners, conducting raids on workplaces and deporting migrant workers. Female migrants suffer the most as anti-trafficking activism has been directed mainly at women and is tied up with efforts to clamp down on the sex industry. Police rescue operations have received the blessing of feminists who somehow believe that labelling millions of women from around the world as hapless victims is ’empowering’.

There’s no denying that many migrants men and women put themselves at risk by taking roundabout routes across the world. Along the way, they pay hefty fees to smugglers and end up taking up work in the so-called shadow economy. Many work long hours for very little pay and in degrading conditions. This kind of exploitation is a consequence of a lack of legal means of moving about the world and earning money. Yet the aim of anti-trafficking campaigns is not to open up opportunities for free movement and decent labour conditions. Instead, the aim is to keep foreigners in their place for their own good, of course. The anti-trafficking lobby as a whole has promoted a risk-averse view of migration as something dangerous and threatening, something that is preferably to be avoided.

Especially female migrants are seen, not

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Posted: 12th, March 2011 | In: Key Posts Comments (4) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink