All Resources > Critical Anti-trafficking Repository

Critical Anti-trafficking Repository

Interested in learning how mainstream anti-trafficking campaigns actually result in harm for sex work communities? Do you want to hear from people with lived experience and those conducting robust empirical research in the realm of sex work?

This repository contains everything from introductory articles and videos, to podcasts, to special reports. The information provided below will help you gain an understanding of this topic and ways we can improve anti-trafficking work without targetting sex workers.

This repository of resources was compiled by the Harms of Anti-Trafficking Action Group and SWAN continues to update it.

Videos

Introductory

Anti-Trafficking: Harming While Trying to Help

Created by: SWAN Vancouver 

Year: 2020

Description: 6 minute illustrated video raising awareness about the harms of anti-trafficking campaigns.

Bad Rehab

Created by: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

Year: 2011 

Description: 5 minute song and animated video about the real issues for sex workers who are forced into rehabilitation centres in South East Asia and the anti-trafficking “rescue industry” that has sprung up and campaigns for laws and systems that restrict sex workers and promote further violence against them.

Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile (Trailer only)

Created by: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

Year: 2011

Description: Sex workers in Cambodia have fought against the 100% Condom Use Program and the abuses associated with it for many years. Now Cambodia has a new anti-trafficking law which makes all sex work illegal, and where sex workers can be sent for mandatory rehabilitation. This film shows the human rights abuses inherent in both approaches.

Last Rescue in Siam

Created by: Empower Thailand

Year: 2012

Description: 10 minute film – the first ever made by sex workers in Thailand. It is a short black and white movie inspired by the tradition of the old silent movies highlighting the harms of various raid and rescue approaches.

Advanced

Beyond the Barbed Wire: Sex Workers in India Help Fight Sex Trafficking

Created by: Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and Karnataka Sex Workers Union

Year: 2010

Description: 21 minute film; This detailed documentary explains the specifics of the way self-regulation within the community of sex workers deals directly with identifying young persons, forced labor, other workplace abuses and other relevant ILO areas comprising trafficking.

From Sex Worker to Seamstress: The High Cost of Cheap Clothes

Created by: Vice News

Year: 2014

Description: 13 minute film; Cambodia’s aggressive anti-trafficking campaign is designed to rescue and rehabilitate sex workers. But many women say authorities in Cambodia are actually forcing them into a trade where conditions and pay are even worse: making clothing for Western brands. VICE founder Suroosh Alvi traveled to Phnom Penh to speak with former and current sex workers, officials, and labor organizers to investigate what is happening to those swept up in the country’s trafficking crackdown. This dynamic insiders’ view clearly demonstrates how rescue projects can work against individuals that they are claiming or aiming to assist.

Harms of Anti-Trafficking Webinar/Panel Discussion

Created by: SWAN Vancouver

Year: 2020

Description: 1.5 hour panel discussion with critical anti-trafficking scholars Dr. Kamala Kempadoo, Dr. Annalee Lepp, Dr. Joel Quirk & Dr. Tamara O’Doherty in dialogue about the rescue industry, misinformation and problems with mainstream anti-trafficking campaigns and approaches. 

This Is How New Legislation Puts Sex Workers in Danger

Created by: Ashley Velez

Year: 2018

Description: Description: 8:43 minutes; Culminating Black History month from Jezebel and The Root, an excellent essay is also included. Focusing on the US law, FOSTA/SESTA, this video is based on the taped discussion by three Black sex workers who discuss the various ways new anti-trafficking and other recent laws/policies impact their safety and well being, and the lives of a diverse black women, including young woman and transgender women.

Podcasts

How Canada's sex work laws put lives at risk

Creator: The Big Story

Year: 2020

Length: 27 minutes

Listen: Online

Description: Interview with Director of the Migrant Sex Workers Project, Chanelle Gallant. Discusses Canada’s harmful sex work laws and the damage caused by conflating sex work and sex trafficking.

Human Trafficking

Creator: You’re Wrong About Podcast (Michael Hobbes & Sarah Marshall)

Year: 2019

Listen: Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple

Description: 1.5 hour podcast outlining what the mainstream anti-trafficking narrative and approaches are really all about.

Panics Without Borders: How Global Sporting Events Drive Myths about Sex Trafficking

Creator: The Roundtable, with author Gregory Mitchell

Year: 2023

Listen: The Roundtable

Description: 15-minute podcast discussing author Gregory Mitchell’s book on the myth of prolific sex trafficking associated with sporting events. Excerpt of the book available here.

Wayfair and Human Trafficking Statistics

Creator: You’re Wrong About Podcast (Michael Hobbes & Sarah Marshall)

Year: 2020

Listen: Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple

Description: 1.5 hour podcast discussing the Wayfair conspiracy theory and flawed human trafficking statistics.

Articles

Introductory

Anti-trafficking is an inside job

Author: Nandita Sharma

Year: 2020

Via: Open Democracy’s Palermo Protocol 20th Anniversary Special

Description: This article discusses the symbiotic relationship between anti-trafficking and anti-immigrant agendas, mostly contextualized through the US framework under Trump. This article is part of an extensive series on trafficking and exploitation in light of the 20th anniversary of the Palermo Protocol.

Causing harm while trying to help women in sex work

Author: Alison Clancey (formerly of SWAN Vancouver)

Year: 2021

Via: Open Democracy

Description: This article speaks to the purpose of SWAN’s Harms of Anti-Trafficking campaign

Debunking the Myth of ‘Super Bowl Sex Trafficking’: Media hype or evidenced-based coverage

Author: Lauren Martin & Annie Hill

Year: 2019

Via: Anti-Trafficking Review

Description: This article examines US media coverage of human trafficking in relation to the Super Bowl, American football’s championship game. Available empirical evidence does not suggest that major sporting events cause trafficking for sexual exploitation. Yet, we find that 76 per cent of US print media from 2010 to 2016 propagated the ‘Super Bowl sex trafficking’ narrative.

The dangerously fake link between the Super Bowl and human trafficking

Author: The LA Times editorial board

Year: 2022

Description: In this article: “Some reasons for keeping these myths alive are seriously troubling. Panic over the sexual abuse of children and human trafficking is good for law enforcement business. It gives police an opportunity to seek more resources and to remind us that we need their services. And because police are authority figures, and because fear of crime is good for the news business as well, false or imagined threats uttered by law enforcement leaders and repeated uncritically by news outlets or even in TV dramas like “CSI” become part of a body of “copaganda” — statements that serve police interests and become commonly accepted despite their being demonstrably untrue.”

Advanced

Do Black Sex Workers' Lives Matter? White Washed Anti-Slavery, Racial Justice, and Abolition

Author: Robyn Maynard 

Date: 2018

Description: Specifically focused on issues of Race and policing, this essay is by a Canadian University of Toronto Department member and author of “Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present.” On the Academia.edu site, this is available for download.

Purity, Victimhood and Agency: Fifteen years of the UN Trafficking Protocol

Author: Marjan Wijer

Year: 2015

Via: Anti-Trafficking Review

Description: In this article: When the women’s movement reverted back to the nineteenth-century Victorian concept of ‘trafficking in women’ to address abuses of migrant women in the sex industry, it unwittingly adopted not only a highly morally biased concept—dividing women into innocent victims in need of rescue and guilty ones who can be abused with impunity—but also one with racist and nationalistic overtones. Despite efforts to counter these flaws, this inheritance continues to define the debate on trafficking today, exemplified by the distinction made by the United Nations Trafficking Protocol between so-called ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘labour exploitation’ and its focus on the aspects of recruitment and movement. As a result, its implementation in the last fifteen years has led to a range of oppressive measures against sex workers and migrants in the name of combating trafficking. The focus on the purity and victimhood of women, coupled with the protection of national borders, not only impedes any serious effort to address the exploitation of human beings under forced labour and slavery-like conditions, but actually causes harm. The call of the anti-trafficking movement for a human rights-based approach does not necessarily solve these fundamental problems, as it tends to restrict itself to protecting the rights of trafficked persons, while neglecting or even denying the human rights of sex workers and migrants.

The white man’s burden revisited

Author: Dr. Kamala Kempadoo

Date: 2015

Description: In this article: “The war on trafficking is a contemporary imperialist move that involves ‘the West’ saving ‘the rest’, appearing as a reconfigured version of the ‘white man’s burden.’  Modern-day slavery abolitionism, abolitionist feminism, and celebrity humanitarianism together make up this renewed imperialism.” Find more articles by Kamala Kempadoo here.

Other Publications

Panics Without Borders: How Global Sporting Events Drive Myths about Sex Trafficking

Author: Gregory Mitchell

Year: 2022

Length: 318 pages

Description: We are living in a time of great panic about “sex trafficking”—an idea whose meaning has been expanded beyond any real usefulness by evangelicals, conspiracy theorists, anti-prostitution feminists, and politicians with their own agendas. This is especially visible during events like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, when claims circulate that as many as 40,000 women and girls will be sex trafficked. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Brazil as well as interviews with sex workers, policymakers, missionaries, and activists in Russia, Qatar, Japan, the UK, and South Africa, Gregory Mitchell shows that despite baseless statistical claims to the contrary, sex trafficking never increases as a result of these global mega-events—but police violence against sex workers always does. See here for an excerpt from this book.

Sex work is not trafficking

Creator: Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Year: 2011

Length: 12 pages

Description: This briefing paper explains how sex work is conflated with trafficking; the UN legal framework throughout the 20th and 21st century; how demand for sex work is conflated with trafficking; the dangers of conflating trafficking with sex work, its impacts on sex workers’ lives and work; the impact on sex worker programming; and offers some recommendations for policy makers, donors and for civil society.

The Impact of Anti-trafficking Legislation and Initiatives on Sex Workers

Creator: Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Year: 2018

Length: 17 pages

Description: This policy brief examines emerging trends in anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives that are harmful to sex workers, illustrating these harms through case studies.

Transforming Anti-Trafficking Sentiment Into Effective Action

Creator: SWAN Vancouver

Year: 2020

Length: 26 pages 

Target Audience: Rescue organizers & others wanting to help trafficking victims

Description: Targeted at the lay reader who is learning for the first time that there are negative impacts of mainstream anti-trafficking campaigns.

What’s the cost of a rumour? A guide to sorting out the myths and the facts about sporting events and trafficking

Creator: Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women 

Year: 2011

Length: 75 pages 

Description: This report by GAATW discusses the myths and facts about sporting events and trafficking.

Why Ashton Kutcher's tears are everything that’s wrong with the anti-trafficking movement

Author: Laura LeMoon

Year: 2017

Description: Short blog post on how celebrities impact the anti-trafficking movement.

Focus Areas

Impacts of anti-trafficking on migrant workers

Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States

Author: Denise Brennan

Year: 2014

Pages: 304

Description: In this book, the author links firsthand trafficking accounts to global economic inequities and under-regulated and unprotected workplaces that routinely exploit migrant laborers in the United States.

Resisting the harms of anti-trafficking policies and fostering peer-based organizing in Canada

Authors: Elene Lam and Annalee Lepp

Date: 2019 

Description: This article looks at the harmful effects of PCEPA on sex workers; specifically looking at how it has harmfully disrupted the migrant sex worker community.

Impacts on youth

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Author: Alexandra Lutnick

Year: 2016

Pages: 200 The book takes a hard look at how local and federal responses to trafficking increase young people’s vulnerability to trading sex. Urging policymakers and practitioners to move beyond the simple framework of “rescuing” victims and “punishing” villains, this book calls for policies and programs that focus on the failure of social and cultural systems and respond better to the young people caught in this web.

Impacts on Indigenous communities

Colonial Roots, Contemporary Risk Factors: A cautionary exploration of the domestic trafficking of Aboriginal women and girls in British Columbia, Canada

Author: Sarah Hunt

Year: 2010

Pages: 4

Description: Beginning on page 27, the author argues “that while Indigenous girls and women in Canada are at heightened risk of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, little evidence is available to support the claim that trafficking is a growing issue in our communities. Rather, as others have argued, human trafficking is one of many forms of sexualised violence perpetrated against Aboriginal women, and efforts to address trafficking must simultaneously distinguish between trafficking, youth sexual exploitation, adult sex work, and a range of violent offences while seeing the colonial roots which link various forms of abuse and marginalisation.”

Representing Colonial Violence: trafficking, sex work, and the violence of law

Author: Dr. Sarah Hunt

Year: 2016

Pages: 12

Description: This article examines the emergence of the discourse on “domestic trafficking” of Indigenous girls and women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Drawing on community-based experience, the author argues that the shift toward the language and framework of “human trafficking” to capture a range of offences and injustices facing Indigenous women is one of many efforts to recategorize violence against Indigenous women as worthy of legal response in the context of ongoing colonial legal violence.

Impacts of co-opting “abolitionist” & “slavery” language (Canadian context)

Selling sex: Experience, advocacy, and research on sex work in Canada

Editors: Emily Van der Muelen, Elya M. Durisin and Victoria Love 

Date: 2013

Description: A compilation of “chapters” written by different authors on this topic. There are a few chapters specifically on the harms of anti-trafficking movements in Canada. You can request free access to the text from the Editor here.

Other sex work-related resources

Legal Context for Sex Work in Canada

Author: PEERS Victoria (under their Peer Health Advocate Training Program)

Year: 2011

Description: A 12 minute video discussing some of the impacts of PCEPA and decriminalization vs. legalization.

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