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Biopolitical Management, Economic Calculation and “Trafficked Women”

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Abstract

Narratives surrounding human trafficking, especially trafficking in women for sex work, employ gendered and racialized tropes that have among their effects, a shrouding of women’s economic decision-making and state collusion in benefiting from their labour. This paper explores the operation of these narratives in order to understand the ways in which they mask the economics of trafficking by sensationalizing the sexual and criminal aspects of it, which in turn allows the state to pursue political projects under the guise of a benevolent concern for trafficked women and/or protection of its own citizens. This paper will explore one national example: Article 18 of Italian Law 40 (1998). I argue that its passage has led to an increase in cooperation with criminal prosecution of traffickers largely because it approaches trafficked women as capable of making decisions about how and what they themselves want to do. This paper will also consider a more global approach to trafficking embedded in the concept of “migration management”, an International Organization for Migration (IOM) framework that is now shaping EU, US and other national immigration laws and policies that impact trafficking. It will also examine the inherent limitations of both the national and global approach as an occasion to unpack how Article 18 and Migration Management function as forms of biopolitical management that participate in the production of “trafficking victims” into a massified population to be managed, rather than engender a more engaged discussion of what constitutes trafficking and how to redress it.

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