Drawing on the work of Gayle Rubin and Emma Goldman, this article argues that campaigns past and present against trafficking (popularly understood as the trafficking of women into prostitution) constitute displaced conversations about and interventions into heterosexuality, the major site of struggle over sexuality in the past 150 years. These campaigns situate their critiques of heterosexuality outside conventional heterosexual intimacy and marriage by carving off an allegedly unique and dangerous zone (in public, for money, at the hands of strangers) in which sex is exchanged for money and livelihood. These efforts to “draw the line” between disapproved and expected forms of exploitation and inequality (sexual and nonsexual) are filled with contradiction and incoherence, particularly in regard to the sexual culpability of men or women. Recent international law (2000) recasts trafficking by defining it as a crime of labor exploitation (not prostitution) that can harm any person (not just women and girls). Despite this reframing, the melodramatic narrative used to tell the story of trafficking subverts the new laws by highlighting sexual danger, innocent women, and male lust as the causal factors in trafficking. Critiques of heterosexual intimacy, institutions, and economies are redirected to the exceptional and the sexual in contemporary campaigns against trafficking, despite the progressive elements of recent law.
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Carole S. Vance; THINKING TRAFFICKING, THINKING SEX. GLQ 1 January 2011; 17 (1): 135–143. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-2010-024
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