Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis


Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

David Andrews

Reader 2

Pardis Mahdavi

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© 2014 Chelsea L. Thompson


In this thesis, I problematize the United States’ response to the global phenomenon characterized as human trafficking. The framing of trafficking as policy issue takes place in the context of politicized claims about the nature and prevalence of trafficking, its relation to the sex industry, and the kind of response that is required. U.S. anti-trafficking policy was built and shaped in the context of fears about immigration, global labor, and the sex industry. As a result, trafficking has been used to justify oppressive domestic reactions such as border crackdown, scrutiny of immigrant and sex worker communities, and victim “protection” that barely differs from prosecution. The United States has also leveraged anti-trafficking measures such as the policy prescriptions in the Trafficking in Persons Report and sanctions for countries that fall in the bottom tier to build a global response to trafficking that suits the hegemony of the United States rather than the needs of vulnerable populations. Through the government-subsidized “rescue industry”—an army of U.S.-based NGO’s and humanitarian groups—the United States has effectively exported an imperialistic response to trafficking based on Christian ethics and neoliberal economics around the world. These policies are distinctly out of touch with the experiences and needs of the supposed “victims of trafficking,” those attempting to survive at the bottom of global capitalist labor markets. As a result, I characterize anti-trafficking as a form of structural violence, and emphasize the need for an alternative movement that addresses the actual problems experienced by global laborers and the complicity of the United States in creating the conditions for labor exploitation.