Trafficking in Narratives

41 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2015 Last revised: 22 Mar 2017

Date Written: August 1, 2015


Anti-trafficking laws have emerged from a complex historical context, driven in large part by public perception. This article explores and questions the “trafficking narratives” that have stimulated and shaped the legal response to trafficking both globally and domestically. Specifically, this article argues that the constructed roles of “victims,” “offenders,” and “rescuers” are host to racialized and gendered assumptions, which persist in the conceptualization and implementation of anti-trafficking laws. This public understanding, which may not be based in evidence but is manifest in law, may not only undermine efforts to prevent trafficking, but also compound the suffering of victims and bring marginalized communities under scrutiny as potential offenders. This article critically examines the costs associated with an increasingly aggressive “carceral” response to human trafficking, an approach focused on prosecuting and punishing offenders. It concludes that advocates should reconsider the use of victim narratives in pushing for criminal justice responses to trafficking, as the distinction between “victims” and “offenders” is not always clear, and carceral responses have unintended consequences in rendering victims — and indeed, entire communities — suspect.

Keywords: trafficking, immigration, criminalization, crime control, race, gender

Suggested Citation

Balgamwalla, Sabrina, Trafficking in Narratives (August 1, 2015). Denver University Law Review, Vol. 94, 2016, Available at SSRN: or

Sabrina Balgamwalla (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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