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