Anti-Trafficking Industrial Complex Awareness Month (2nd edition)

The Sex Worker Media Library presents the second edition of a round-up of issues that brought attention to the human rights impact of the anti-trafficking regime.


  1. Addendum (and Responses) to U.S. Human Trafficking Awareness Day

  2. In 2007 President Bush declared January 11th National Trafficking Awareness Day*. President Obama later expanded this to declare January National Trafficking Awareness Month. The Sex Worker Media Library presents the 2nd edition of “Anti-Trafficking Industrial Complex Awareness Month (ATIC)," as an addendum and an antidote to the U.S. government's month long campaign.

    Over the last decade scholars, sex workers, activists and cultural critics have identified various systems and institutions within the anti-trafficking regime including the Rescue Industry (Laura Agustín) and the White Savior Industrial Complex (Teju Cole) and Militarized Humanism/Carceral Feminism (Elizabeth Bernstein). On this occasion we bring awareness to the double-edged sword of anti-trafficking, with it’s efforts to assist and empower victims on one side, and the sharp edge of the State's carceral solutions and human rights violations on the other.

    This 2nd edition (1st edition here) focuses primarily on media. Analysis of arrest and incarceration figures can be found at Emi Koyama’s blog including War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement and Norma Jean Almodovar's Police Prostitution and Politics. We also request submissions of recent data and analysis to
  3. *Note: January 11 is also Carol Leigh, the author's birthday.
  4. Becoming aware of Awareness-Raising as anti-trafficking tactic

  5. To launch this 2nd edition, we return to Dr. Laura Agustín's January 2015 essay “Becoming aware of Awareness-Raising as anti-trafficking tactic”

    "Awareness is by definition superficial and can only become deeper if followed up by curious investigation: wondering, reading, critique, talking with those more experienced, cogitating over ambiguities. But with awareness-raising as goal, previously uninformed audiences tend to accept whatever messages claim to be the truth, so that when campaigners are unprincipled (as many anti-traffickers are), audiences are misinformed."
  6. The Sex Worker Media Library revisits this occasion to bring attention to organizations and individuals–activists, artists, and academics– who have carefully researched, responded to and otherwise documented the broad impact of the anti-trafficking regime around the world. We recognize and note ill conceived anti-trafficking policy, the harms of the rescue industry and of increased stigmatization and criminalization of migration, commercial sex, people of color, transgender people and youth. We encourage you to future "... investigation: wondering, reading, critique, talking with those more experienced, cogitating over ambiguities."
  7. Anti-trafficking movements and journalism: who sets the agenda?

  8. Quoting from Gretchen Soderlund at Open Democracy's Beyond Trafficking and Slavery (April 2015): "In recent coverage of sex trafficking there appears to be a continual feedback loop: the news media have inspired social movements to adopt sex trafficking as a cause at various points in history. Once the issue becomes entrenched, journalists become beholden to anti-trafficking movements as experts for continued coverage of the topic. The press proceeds to adopt a frame from these groups that it had earlier helped to establish as dominant. As I have shown elsewhere, the history of anti-trafficking groups and the history of modern journalism are deeply intertwined. Not only did these social movements and journalism develop symbiotic relationships with one another, but early-twentieth century controversies over the excesses of sex trafficking reportage actually helped change journalistic practices."

    "The history of sex trafficking journalism and activism is marred by scandal, sensationalism, and unsubstantiated claims. From Stead to Somaly Mam, sex trafficking is a topic that lends itself to excesses and abuses. Part of the problem is that the narratives have become so universally accepted that they have become ready-made stories that journalists can publish with little reflection or criticism. We need a renewed call for responsible reporting on this issue. Understanding the history of this reportage and its relationship to social movements can help lead us down a path that avoids some of the main pitfalls of the past."

  9. Super Bowl Trafficking and Other Myths: The Evolution of A Discourse

  10. This year's summary highlights glimpses of hope for those harmed by the ATIC: There has been wider support–in the media and in parts of society–for decriminalization of sex work. Mainstream anti-trafficking groups such as Polaris are walking back some of their stigmatizing claims. Their 'understated' versions of "Trafficking Myths" invoke what sex worker and other human rights groups have been voicing for over a decade.

  11. A collection from Dr. Laura Agustin
  12. Images were collected from a range of sources. The central technique is to portray non sequiturs or at least to stretch anti-trafficking metaphors. Visit Dr Laura Agustín's collection on Facebook with images and assorted commentary on Facebook linked below:

  13. Anti-Trafficking, San Francisco Style

  14. The recent anti-trafficking campaign from 'the City that Knows How' is an ideal example of several new trends in anti-trafficking discourse. For example, the 'Super Bowl Sex Trafficking' link has been widely disputed. The dispute about the link is now a feature of a large portion of stories about 'Super Bowl Sex Trafficking' in San Francisco, in which the 'mainstream' discourse offers a minor retreat:

    "While there have been many claims about the effect of a Super Bowl on the amount of prostitution in the host city, a 2011 study by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women showed that large sporting events do not cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution."