Fightslavery's Blog

{February 19, 2011}   Taking liberty with labels?


Nathalie Rothschild suggests that “slavery was abolished 200 years ago and has not returned” (see Spiked article.)

In the interests of showing a balanced viewpoint I am including links to articles by her. She believes that many of the initiatives to “help” victims of trafficking are nothing more than neo-colonial, white, religious attempts to “rescue” people for their own agenda. She asks – do they want to be “rescued” or are these people making their lives worse by taking away their livelihoods?

I might not agree but its interesting to see another point of view.

The Guardian


There is also a link to a paper by Jo Doezema`s paper Loose Women or Lost Women”.

Pictured as poor, naïve, and ‘unempowered’, third world/non western women are perceived as unable to act as agents in their own lives or to make an uncoerced decision to work in the sex industry (Doezema 1995, Murray 1998)…

Presenting ‘non-western’ women as helpless, childlike creatures is both a result of and perpetuates what Chandra Mohanty has identified as the ‘colonial gaze’ of western feminists…

From tales of deceived innocence to reports of the poor selling their daughters, contemporary accounts of ‘trafficking in women’ make use of many of the discursive foundations of the ‘white slavery’ myth. Similarly, the consequences of the ‘anti-trafficking’ campaign are proving to be disastrous for women, especially sex workers. Increasingly, countries are restricting women’s migration possibilities, and policing and deporting sex workers…

While the discourse on white slavery ostensibly was about the protection of women from (male) violence, to a large extent, the welfare of the ‘white slaves’ was peripheral to the discourse. A supposed threat to women’s safety served as a marker of and metaphor for other fears, among them fear of women’s growing independence, the breakdown of the family, and loss of national identity through the influx of immigrants.

In conclusion she suggests:

it is one thing to save ‘innocent victims of trafficking’; quite another to recognise that ‘guilty’ sex workers deserve respect for their rights as workers, as women, and as migrants. Women who migrate for the sex industry can only be freed from violations of their human rights if they are first freed of their mythical constraints. They must no longer be used as the canvas upon which societies’ fears and anxieties are projected; be defined no longer as innocent, sexless, ‘non-adults’ or as the oppressed sex of backward countries; but as agents endowed with the ability to think, to act and to resist

Her analysis seems to be that Anti Trafficking stems from a fear of the choice of women to do this, and the fear of independent women who wish to leave home. The effects of this “fear” are that women who choose to become prostitutes are ultimately given less rights than “good women” i.e the ones who had no choice and that they need to be protected as workers.

I agree that they need to be protected regardless of the way they got into a situation which is abusive. One argument is that sex workers need to be given rights so that they are working in protected environments. In my time as a housing support worker, working with sex workers  in the UK this was something I thought about a lot. The women are vulnerable on the street and because prostitution is criminalised it is the women who end up being victimized. In addition it is hard for a women who has been raped to secure a conviction as her sexual history almost disqualifies her.

However, I think she misses the point. This is not an academic analysis of the perception of women but an attempt to stop women being abused. Of course some women choose to enter prostitution freely, and the fact that in courts of law a women’s sexual past be taken into account when trying to decide if she is worthy of protection is wrong. Whether it is chosen or not I believe the  women should be treated equally and not labelled. As Jesus said to those waiting to condemn the women with stones in hand – He who is without sin cast the first stone”, however I honestly don`t believe if the woman had the choice of another type of work which would pay as well, and had an experienced of truly being loved that she would want to be a prostitute. If she was not doing it for money perhaps it makes her feel powerful but again I would ask what are the roots of this?


The BBC took a young, naïve British girl Stacey to Cambodia to make a documentary about Trafficking. I have not seen it so I don`t feel qualified to comment but there were some important comments made by others which relate to the points made by Rothschild.

The question for me is relevant – how can we as Westerners avoid the idea that we can FIX the PROBLEMS of the POOR? A desire to do something is such a beautiful thing, but I feel that this needs to be carefully tempered with cultural awareness and information from sources which are correct.

According to many of the angry comments the whole problem with this show is that it presents a very simplistic version of the problem. Charity itself can end up hindering people’s ability to be independent in some cases, hence initiatives such as the Grameen bank and Social Business are seeking to be viable alternatives. There has been a lot of criticism of these too. I do not know what the answer is but I think it is important to keep asking what can be done?

I am hoping to go to Cambodia in March to see for myself and hope that this will give me a more accurate picture of things.


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