Trafficking with Abolitionism: An Examination of Anti-Slavery Discourses

17 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2015

See all articles by Mechthild Nagel

Mechthild Nagel

State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland

Date Written: August 23, 2015


What do discourses about prisons, trafficking and "prostitution" have in common? This paper analyses the ideological framework of social movements with respect to the rhetorical deployment of abolitionism. Critical to all of these movements is the concept of abolishing slavery. After tracing "the new abolitionism" of trafficking and prostitution back to the 19th Century Anglo American temperance movement, this paper will address the following: How are these social movements impacted by considerations of (social) class, religious fervor, gender, sexuality, citizenship, race, and ethnicity? Who is speaking for whom and why does it matter, politically and ethically? In what ways are today’s opponents of "prostitution" reproducing yesterday’s slogans of "white slavery"? It is argued that there are some fundamental differences between contemporary anti-prison movements and the anti-sex industry movement. Prisoners’ rights activists focus on the causes of mass incarceration and explore which demands best lead to overall decarceration; penal critics demand excarceration and a complete transformation of the penal system. Those who condemn "prostitution" rely heavily on the prosecution of "pimps" and "johns" with the goal of freeing the girls and women from "sexual slavery." Finally, the paper will explain in detail why it is misplaced to label the movement against the sex industry as abolitionist rather than, say, prohibitionist.

Keywords: slavery, prohibition, abolition, prisons, sex work

JEL Classification: Z1

Suggested Citation

Nagel, Mechthild, Trafficking with Abolitionism: An Examination of Anti-Slavery Discourses (August 23, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Mechthild Nagel (Contact Author)

State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland ( email )

P.O. Box 2000
21 Graham Ave.
Cortland, NY 13045-0900
United States

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