Challenging Notions of the Ideal Victim: Identifying and Stereotyping Human Trafficking in the Midwest
University of Kansas
Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies
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Human trafficking, defined as commercial sex or labor induced by force, fraud, or coercion, has become a global concern, with various stakeholders taking different political and ideological stances in their opposition to this exploitation. The US Midwest is no outlier in these anti-trafficking efforts, as legislators, frontline workers, and activists increasingly seek to eliminate sex and labor trafficking through policy and practice. This dissertation project uses the qualitative interviews of 54 service providers in the US Midwest who work with vulnerable, exploited, or trafficked persons to understand the climate of anti-trafficking efforts—the interpersonal challenges frontline workers face with their trafficked clients, the structural barriers to their workplace practices, and the potential solutions to reduce violence and trauma in their communities. Taking a theoretical perspective informed by critical trafficking studies and street-level bureaucracy theory, I begin with an exploration of the various definitions frontline workers use to make meaning of their clients’ experiences with sex and labor trafficking. Next, I move to an analysis of the role of the carceral state in anti-trafficking efforts; namely, the reliance on practices of detention, incarceration, and deportation in anti-trafficking efforts. I shift to address the ways emotional labor complicates and rewards service providers with respect to the intense, affective connections they have with their exploited or trafficked clients. Finally, I propose three policy recommendations for thinking about the future of a Midwestern anti-trafficking agenda.
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