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Trafficking, Migration, and the Law: Protecting Innocents, Punishing Immigrants

NCJ Number
Gender & Society Volume: 17 Issue: 6 Dated: December 2003 Pages: 923-937
Wendy Chapkis
Date Published
December 2003
15 pages
This article argues that the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act of 2000 draws moralistic distinctions between “innocent victims” of human trafficking and “illegal migrants.”
There has been a long history of anti-immigration and anti-poor legislation in the United States. Specifically, legislation against immigration has been focused on barring women of color who were thought to be entering the country for “lewd and immoral purposes” and barring women who were “likely to become public charges.” The author argues that the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act of 2000, which exempts a small class of abused migrants from punitive punishment, actually supports an anti-immigration, anti-poor, and anti-prostitution agenda. It accomplishes this in three ways: by relying on slippery statistics and sliding definitions to create a repressive moral panic about sexual slavery; by carefully distinguishing between innocent victims and guilty prostitutes and only supporting the innocent victims; and by making assistance to innocent victims contingent upon their willingness to assist authorities in the investigation of traffickers. The main premise is that “illegal migrants” and “innocent victims” are divided along the lines of gender and sex. The article states that while at first blush the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act of 2000 appears to be a departure from historic, as well as recent, anti-immigration and anti-sex policies, the Act actually supports this political agenda by making assistance and support only available to a few select “deserving” migrants under certain and distinct circumstances. By institutionalizing the distinction between innocent victims and guilty migrants, blame is placed on women who chose to accept the price of sex for a chance at freedom in the United States. In the end, there are no guilty victims. Notes, references