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  • Teaching about Trafficking:Opportunities and Challenges for Critical Engagement
  • Molly Dragiewicz (bio)

When I was first invited to teach a women's studies course called Sex Trafficking in 2002, most of my students had never heard of the issue. Internet and literature searches for "trafficking" mostly turned up references to trafficking in drugs and weapons, not people. When I revised the course for a topical capstone in Criminology, Justice, and Policy Studies in 2006, all of my students had heard about human trafficking, and a handful had already studied it in other classes. The availability of books, films, scholarly articles, and advocacy pieces had all increased exponentially since I first became engaged in the field. This bounty provided a wealth of resources for teaching but also presented a greater challenge when it came to deciding which texts to include. It also added to the inevitable pedagogical angst over what to leave out.

I came to know about trafficking by accident, when I was hired as a research assistant at The Protection Project (TPP) in 1999. In my time at TPP I authored a literature review on human trafficking. At that time, my comprehensive database of sources contained fewer than one hundred books and articles, a few UN documents, a handful of films, and some websites from nongovernmental organizations. My review of the literature inevitably reflected the ideological chasm between those who saw trafficking as primarily a labor, migration, and rights issue and those who saw it as primarily a sexual exploitation issue. On the policy end, these ideological orientations created bizarre bedfellows of individuals and organizations that otherwise would have been at odds. The ideological divide has not diminished in the intervening years, and it is important to be aware of and to negotiate this in designing a course on trafficking.

As a feminist teacher, I was very aware of the divisions among feminists on the subject of trafficking, and was interested in communicating these differences to students who were not well versed in the varieties of feminist thought. I was also mindful of the difficulties my American students had in engaging with some of the course texts and issues the first time around. For some students, moral judgments about prostitutes were as far as they were able to go in engaging with the course. These [End Page 185] students could not find a way in to think about the many issues involved in trafficking. How could I reach them?

In this article, I share some of my texts and tactics with others who might find themselves in a position to teach about human trafficking. I include my case for why feminist teachers should teach trafficking, an overview of the debate that divides the field, my rationale for organizing the course the way that I did, issues to consider when designing a course on trafficking, and some suggested readings, films, and web resources.

Why Should Feminist Teachers Teach About Trafficking?

Given the recent increase in interest in human trafficking, perhaps best (or worst) illustrated by the 2005 Lifetime Television mini-series by that name or by the linking up of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and Violence Against Women Act in 2000, it has become increasingly important for feminist scholars to understand and participate in public discourses on trafficking. This is an extremely politicized issue and the debate is filling a variety of symbolic functions for a number of constituencies. Symbolic battles over issues like sexuality, gender, globalization, and migration are the reasons that trafficking has received so much attention in recent years. As in the earlier spate of interest in "white slavery" in the early 1900s, concerns about the women's movement, women's sexuality, women's place in society, and women's bodies, rather than changes in trafficking itself or some objective interest in harm to women, are driving the international focus on trafficking. Given this reality, it is very important for feminist scholars to be aware of these political developments and to participate in the public discussion.

Regardless of the reasons for increased attention to trafficking, many colleges and universities now offer stand-alone courses on the issue in programs as diverse as women's and...


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pp. 185-201
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Will Be Archived 2020
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