Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2012

Publication Citation

19 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 105 (2012)


This analysis examines the violent predator/innocent victim paradigm employed by many governmental and nongovernmental organizations active in monitoring and combating transnational human trafficking. One common treatment of the issue moralizes victims as innocent women and children who have been deceived and coerced into exploitative sex work; another constructs human trafficking as modern day slavery which takes a variety of forms and requires foreign intervention to organize rescues and redemption. Both views see human trafficking, most especially sex trafficking, as an exceptional crime with distinct predators and victims and cultivate moral outrage as a strategic tool to combat coerced labor. This essay draws on my ethnographic interviews in Colombia from 2007-2011 and analyzes trial evidence from prosecutions of human traffickers in Colombian courts to interrogate the polarized predator/victim discourse. In practice, many Colombian women reject the victim label for their overseas work. Court cases document alternative renderings of women's subjectivity and portray organized crime as a transnational mix of licit and illicit businesses with wider social norms and divisions of labor. In practice, Colombian legal cases reveal women accepting a variety of jobs in trafficking organizations after they have paid off their initial debts to the organization. What is the significance of these clashing understandings? How do these organizations operate in plain sight as businesses and employers while the scope of their social relations and work situations are reduced in the realm of antitrafficking activism to the singular predator/victim paradigm?

Globalization and Migration Symposium, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Bloomington, Indiana, April 7-8, 2011