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Women's Participation in Chinese Transnational Human Smuggling: A Gendered Market Perspective

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 45 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2007 Pages: 699-733
Date Published
August 2007
35 pages

In order to examine how organizational context and market demands may shape the extent and nature of women's participation in illicit enterprises, this study used an organizational framework to analyze women's involvement in Chinese human smuggling to the United States.


The study found that although the Chinese human smuggling operations were predominantly a male enterprise, women had key roles in smuggling operations, unlike women's secondary roles in most criminal networks. In most cases, women worked for or with male partners, but they occasionally were independent. Women tended to be concentrated in those specializations that had the least risk for violence or detection (i.e., air routes and fraudulent marriages), which were nonetheless viable and profitable methods for smuggling. Women's entrance into the human smuggling enterprise, as well as their client base, derived from close personal networks. The case of Chinese human smuggling suggests that organizational context is as important for understanding gender stratification within illicit enterprises as it is for understanding these features in the formal economy. Thus, analysis of organizational characteristics and dynamics offers promise for increasing understanding of the processes that create, sustain, and undermine the exclusion and marginalization of women in criminal enterprises. Data for this study were obtained from interviews with 129 human smugglers who were directly involved in organizing and transporting Chinese nationals to the United States. A "human smuggler" was defined as anyone who played a role in assisting a person entering the United States illegally for a fee. Interviews were conducted in New York City, Los Angeles, and Fuzhou (China). 3 tables, 1 figure, and 49 references

Date Published: August 1, 2007