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Traffic Jam–Pardis Mahdavi’s “Gridlock: Labor Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai

June 28, 2011

In the ten years since Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) into law, human trafficking has been transformed from a public policy backwater into a critical component piece of national security. At the time, TVPA provided the capstone to a growing international movement dedicated to combating the trade in people. It explicitly criminalized all forms of human trafficking, promised a wealth of tools to remedy the phenomenon, offered abundant resources to protect its victims, and mandated the production of an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, a controversial registry of the world’s efforts at fighting forced labor.

While certain aspects of the TVPA were initially welcomed by human rights activists as a progressive development of American foreign policy, it quickly became clear that the law was not without its problems. Particularly striking was the legislative focus on the sex industry, a preoccupation that rests on a series of assumptions about the nature of prostitution and its participants. The resultant discourse around trafficking, which has shaped American foreign policy considerations of the subject, broadly casts sex workers — almost exclusively taken to be women — as unwitting victims shepherded into the trade against their will.

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