Feminist Approach on Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has been one of the most controversial issues in the
contemporary human society. This is especially considering the increased
attention that is given to human rights. Human trafficking is defined as
the trade in human beings usually with the aim of taking them to sexual
slavery, extraction of tissues and organs, as well as forced labor. A
comprehensive definition underlines human trafficking as the
recruitment, transfer, transportation, as well as receipt and harboring
of individuals through the use of force or threat, or even other types
of coercion, fraud, abduction, deception, abuse of power or the
vulnerability of the victims, or even the receipt and provision of
benefits and payments so as to achieve the consent of an individual who
has control over another individual with the sole aim of exploitation
(Aronowitz, 2009). It is worth noting that human trafficking may involve
children, women and men trafficked within their own countries or even
across international borders (Whisnant, 2004).
Underlining the intensity and widespread nature of human trafficking is
the fact that every country has the vice either as a country of origin,
transit country in which the trafficked individuals are taken through or
even destination countries in which the trafficked individuals would
eventually be taken. In most cases, a country will incorporate the three
aspects. It is often impossible to get credible statistics pertaining to
the scale or human trafficking thanks to its illegal and hidden nature
(Whisnant, 2004). Nevertheless, research shows that 600,000-800,000
children, men and women are victims of trans-border human trafficking
every year. It is worth noting, however, that about 50 percent of the
victims are minors, while 80 percent of them are girls and women. Two
approaches have been used in examining human trafficking, with the
feminist approach being the most popular.
The feminist approach or perspective to human trafficking, equates
trafficking to the trafficking of women, (and children to a lesser
extent), for the sole aim of sexual exploitation (Kara, 2009). This
perspective, therefore, sees man as the owner of the industry and the
buyer, while women are seen as the commodity or the demand. Indeed, the
perspective examines human trafficking as an extension of patriarchy,
where a man is persistently striving to be perpetually dominant over
women (Kara, 2009). This perspective sees the relationship as
perennially exploitative, while recognizing the apparent violence that
is prevalent in the sex industry.
Trương et al, 2007).
The activists’ capacity to forcefully connect the trafficked persons
plight to a document that virtually all states have endorsed is
essential to the shifting of international efforts from a state or
border security approach to an approach that would be centered on the
victims and seen them as vulnerable humans and not dangerous threats to
international and national security. On the same note, human rights
language requires that state governments have an obligation to protect
people in their territories against any abuse of their human rights even
in instances where the individuals are not in that state legally
(Jeffreys, 2008). Feminists protest the examination of trafficked
individuals as criminals rather than victims noting that the victims
suffer two instances of victimization. They may be victimized by the
traffickers, or even the host governments. As much as there are
protocols written in an effort to distinguish between voluntary and
involuntary migration, state security apparatuses and border control
agencies see individuals who have been trafficked against their will as
voluntary undocumented migrants (Jeffreys, 2008). Indeed, these agencies
primarily consider the illegal entry of these individuals into the
country as more crucial than the question on whether their entry into
the country was voluntary or involuntary.
As a response to the views of feminists, states have introduced varied
measures of victim protection. In the United States, for instance, the
victims of human trafficking would be provided with medical care
alongside other social services, with the possibility of obtaining
T-visas for victims that would assist the law enforcement agencies in
the prosecution of the traffickers (Cullen-DuPont, 2009). Similar
provisions are made in the European Union, where the trafficking victims
would be provided with healthcare services, housing and legal assistance
in the short reflection period. They can use this reflection period to
determine whether they would assist the authorities in the apprehension
and prosecution of the traffickers, upon which they would obtain some
more assistance and short-term residence permit (Liu, 2011). However,
this has also attracted criticism from feminists who opine that putting
the assistance and protection of victims as conditional to their
cooperation with the authorities would amount to subordination of their
rights and needs to the states’ security needs. Such a scenario would
give the states the sole discretion in determining whether or not the
individual cases would need to be prosecuted (Aronowitz, 2009).
While there are variations as to the appropriate remedy for human
trafficking on women, there has been general agreement that sexual
exploitation is at the heart of the crime. Indeed, a large number of
trafficked women are inducted into prostitution either within their own
countries or in foreign lands. This underlines the notion that any fight
against trafficking would have to incorporate a fight against
prostitution. Researchers have noted that the only difference between
street prostitution and traffic in women is that the latter involves
going across international borders (Liu, 2011). This means that the
distinction between voluntary and involuntary prostitution would have to
be eliminated. To make matters worse, women who take part in or even
render their support for prostitution would, essentially, be actively
supporting the exploitation of women in patriarchal societies (Trương
et al, 2007).
The sexual enslavement of women does not only involve crossing borders
rather it encompasses all women who are under the patriarchal orders. In
this case, the sexual victimhood of women is common irrespective of
their nationality, ethnicity or class. Indeed, prostitution is simply a
single aspect pertaining to the oppression of women sexually. Women may
also be oppressed through battering, bride prices, dressing modes or
even having children from incest (Liu, 2011). This underlines the
importance of forming a transnational movement to combat female sexual
slavery, based on the commonality of the experiences of women as
victims. While prostitution simply represents a single element of the
oppression of women, it doubles up as the most crystallized and extreme
form of sexual exploitation.
However, an alternative feminist approach has sought to distance the
fight against human trafficking from prostitution. Indeed, proponents of
the new feminist approach underline the fact that trafficking is a
reflection of a larger problem pertaining to the abusive treatment of
low-wage laborers and migrants, which is not restricted to sex workers
and prostitutes (Aronowitz, 2009). In this case, it would be imperative
that all trafficked individuals are protected, whether they are forced
non-sex or forced sex laborers. This means that prostitution is not the
fundamental problem rather the key issue revolves around exploitation.
This is especially considering that as much as a large number of victims
of human trafficking are women, not all of them are sex workers. In
fact, human trafficking does not necessarily have to be a component of
the sex industry (Jeffreys, 2008).
As much as the sex industry, like other low –wage and low-status
industries, is exploitative and abusive, it does not necessarily have to
be the case. Indeed, prostitution or sex work is seen as an industry
like any other that is simply susceptible to exploitative practices.
This notion is in line with the aspect of sexual liberation as a
fundamental aspect of women liberation. In essence, it would be
preferable that the solutions concentrate on reducing the harm that is
visited upon women rather than abolishing prostitution.
Liu, M. (2011). Migration, prostitution, and human trafficking: The
voice of Chinese women. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Jeffreys, S. (2008). The idea of prostitution. North Melbourne, Vic:


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“Trương, T.-Đ., Wieringa, S., & Chhachhi, A. (2007). Engendering
human security: Feminist perspectives. London: Zed Books.
Whisnant, R. (2004). Not for sale: Feminists resisting prostitution and
pornography. North Melbourne, Vic: Spinifex Press.
Aronowitz, A. A. (2009). Human trafficking, human misery: The global
trade in human beings. Westport, Conn: Praeger.
Cullen-DuPont, K. (2009). Human trafficking. New York, NY: Facts On
Kara, S. (2009). Sex trafficking: Inside the business of modern
slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.