"What we talk about when we talk about trafficking: A reflection on the first 20 years of the modern anti-slavery fight"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
Routledge International Handbook of Human Trafficking: A Multi-Disciplinary and Applied Approach
Publication Type
Book Chapter

Almost 20 years since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and promulgation of the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, modern anti-trafficking efforts and U.S. leadership in the global effort to combat modern slavery must be understood in the context of American enforcement efforts dating back to Reconstruction under the labels of peonage, involuntary servitude, and slavery, and now human trafficking. The modern anti-trafficking frame of the 3Ps of prevention, protection, and prosecution was rooted in civil rights and human rights concepts of slavery and freedom rather than concepts of commerce, migration, or regulation of prostitution. That new approach, however, has been limited by unresolved cultural and legal legacies of a competing anti-trafficking framework based on commerce and morality – the “White Slave Trafficking” effort of the early 1900s. At its best, the 3P framework of the modern U.S. and UN instruments and policies drives best practices in critical reporting and implementation standards, criminal and civil enforcement, victim identification, supply chain transparency, and worker-led social responsibility while capturing and incorporating the voices and lived experiences of survivors. Continued implementation of this modern rights-based approach is at risk, however, given the rhetorical and cultural strength of the competing sex trafficking lens.

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