Article - Narratives of Human Trafficking: - Ways of Seeing and Not Seeing the Real Survivors and Stories


Narratives of Human Trafficking:

Ways of Seeing and Not Seeing the Real Survivors and Stories

Maria De Angelis
Leeds Beckett University

The 2016 McKendy Lecture1 addressed the two grand narratives in the migration-crime-security nexus and critique their impact on our ability to see and not see real survivors and their stories of being trafficked. Focussing on the UK and female survivors, the lecture explored the crime master narrative for its construction of the social and cultural template—the official way of seeing the “right sort” of crime victim in trafficking (the VoT or modern slave). From this standpoint, anyone falling short of the template is susceptible to criminal scrutiny as someone culpable in her own exploitation. Similarly, the lecture examined the security narrative for its construction of the social and cultural template—the official way of seeing the “wrong sort” of migrant (undocumented, unskilled and racially different). Borne of political, social and cultural attitudes to UK immigration, the security narrative hides the reality of a migrant labour force without rights of citizenship or belonging. The lecture also shared stories of survivors of trafficking which illustrate how they are seen or not seen, but which survivors tell to promote their political visibility.

1 Good evening and thank you for inviting me to deliver the 2016 Lecture on Narrative, in memory of an esteemed colleague and friend, Professor John McKendy. I’m both delighted and nervous to be here. I’m delighted because, as Roland Barthes (1975) tells us, “there is not, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative” (p. 237). Yet, historically, criminologists have viewed the statements made by offenders, crime victims, and criminal justice professionals to be the narrative, and narrowly researched these narratives for criminogenic factors—a tongue-twister of a phrase which simply means information about what influences people to offend. As one author reflects: “that these causes of delinquency are packaged in stories is inconsequential” (Presser, 2016, p. 141). So, I’m delighted to be the first (and hopefully not the last) criminologist to be invited, but I’m also filled with trepidation at the prospect of talking about narrative in a room full of narrative experts and enthusiasts.

2 Tonight’s lecture is entitled “Narratives of Human Trafficking: Ways of Seeing and Not Seeing the Real Survivors and Stories.” And as Tamara (age 33, from Ukraine, trafficked across Europe for sexual exploitation) attests:

When I was in Albania, I was in a hotel and watched by two men with Kalashnikovs. At night, just to scare us, they are shooting into the air. Just to show us they are the mens, you know. They have the power; they are the Mafia; they can do whatever they want. Even the policemens come to join them, have a cup of tea. What can you do with that?

Taking up Tamara’s challenge, what narrative criminology seeks to do is investigate “what stories do” (Presser, 2016, p. 139). And in this task, narrative criminologists look to what Michael Bamberg (2004) calls the master narrative, or if you prefer less gendered terminology given tonight’s focus on women, what Margaret Somers (1994) calls the meta-narrative. That is, the structural and cultural templates which overarch stories and underpin our individual ways of seeing, not seeing, interpreting, and taking action in our own stories. And in contemplating today’s big global stories (whether human trafficking, Islamic State or cybercrime), or individual narratives of identity, law-breaking, and desistance, narrative criminologists are especially interested in the properties of these influential templates for doing harm.

3 In tonight’s lecture on human trafficking, I’ve chosen to critique the dominant narratives in the migration-crime-security nexus for their harmful and troubling ways of seeing and not seeing survivors of trafficking. Firstly, trafficking as crime and, secondly, the related narrative of security—in which trafficking is re-narrated as crime-assisted “illegal” border-crossing—both of which hide trafficking as a subcategory of global migration (Quirk, 2011). These are chosen because they dominate UK policy discourse and influence the personal stories of survivors I interviewed.

The Crime Master Narrative

4 Narrative criminologists urge us to ask what it is about a particular narrative that makes it consequential. According to Edward Snajdr (2013, p. 230), what makes a dominant narrative consequential, is that it “‘makes normal’ both ideology and action at the broadest and most pervasive levels…of society.” And, in order to become masterful, a narrative must “blend emotion, authority, and reason in the act of representing” human trafficking as crime (p. 235). So, let’s take a look at a prototypical crime narrative as found in any number of human trafficking (HT) fora including the UK Home Office (2007), the Salvation Army (2017)— official provider of HT services in England and Wales—and the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Reports (2004, 2016):

For 18 months, I was trafficked to five different states for sex work and assaulted when I failed to meet my $1,500 a night quota. Then, one day, it changed. He demanded I drive other women across state lines. I told my trafficker I didn’t want to drive and he asked me to choose between death and driving. I chose death. He placed a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger. When it failed to go off, he beat me with it. (Shamere, 21, trafficked into sex work)

In spite of a lack of narrative detail, how many of us are now intrigued by Shamere’s words and feel some mixture of alarm and outrage on her behalf? (That would be Snajdr’s appeal to emotion.) If I tell you the source of this information is the internationally renowned Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, does it rise in status, credibility and legitimacy (fulfilling Snajdr’s appeal to authority)? And, if you are sensing this blend of emotion and authority, is it conceivable that Shamere’s narratively bare story is, nonetheless, a logical and reasonable account of her trafficking ordeal (Snajdr’s appeal to reason)?

5 The master narrative of trafficking as organized and transnational crime is firmly ensconced in UK anti-trafficking discourse, as visible in the seminal Human Trafficking: The Government’s Strategy (UK Government, 2011). In the crime narrative, the act of human trafficking is storied as: a “horrific” and “terrible crime” (3); a “truly international crime” (5); “serious and organized criminality” (12, 13); committed by “criminal gangs” (3, 19); with “serious criminal histories” (18); who criminally prey on the vulnerable (5); for significant “criminal profits” (21). In this narrative, the victims of trafficking have been “deceived and exploited” (3); “hidden away, deceived, exploited and frightened” (9); in order to “lure vulnerable migrants to the UK for exploitation” (6, 19); and make money from “vulnerable people” (5). Having “made normal” a dominant narrative of human trafficking as a story of crime involving a trafficker and a “vulnerable migrant” population (19), narrative inquiry obliges us to reverse our narrative gaze and ask not what we don’t see but, rather, what we stand to gain from seeing trafficking as a crime narrative?

6 For narrative analysts such as Shona Trinch (2003), there is always a pragmatic purpose to the storytelling. Within the crime narrative of human trafficking, where we are led to see trafficking as a binary relationship between the predatory and profiteering trafficker and the innocent and exploited non-beneficiary (the victim), the pragmatic purpose lies in how the victim of trafficking (VoT) is embodied in order for us to see and recognize her. In what criminologists term the “doer-sufferer” model of criminal interaction (Miers, 1978, p. 15), what we have is the social and cultural template for seeing the “right sort of victim” of trafficking crime.

7 Let’s take a closer look at this doer-sufferer dynamic in the narrative. First co-launched in 2007 by the UK Home Office and Police-led UK Human Trafficking Centre, the Blue Blindfold anti-trafficking campaign visualizes the passive victim/criminally agentic trafficker interaction as a Crime-Stopper narrative. The Don’t Close Your Eyes to Human Trafficking awareness campaign deploys a series of posters, each featuring members of the public wearing a blue blindfold—symbolising their obliviousness to the crime of human trafficking taking place in their communities. The posters deliver a message that the police require members of the public to see these hidden victims and inform on VoTs who are unable, or for some reason unwilling, to come forward themselves (Maguire, 2011). Re-narrated as modern slavery in the latest campaign rolled out by the Home Office in August 2014 (“Home,” 2014), the Help Free the UK from Modern Slavery campaign shows perpetrators emerging into an everyday situation following their respective roles in crimes of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced rural labour The positive pragmatic purpose is to alert us to global and local concerns over the presence of VoTs in businesses other than the sex industry (already recognized by many as a derivative of white slavery). Under the grand narrative of modern slavery, the newer exploitations in forced labour gain increased visibility and stir social disapprobation. What these and like campaigns don’t allow us to see, however, is what happens to these presumed victims of trafficking once reported to the police and passed over to the immigration authorities.

8 Whilst these domestic campaigns may be unfamiliar to people living outside of the UK, the crime narrative’s doer-sufferer dynamic is easily visible in popular culture and widely disseminated through discursive technologies. Consider, for example, such international films as Lilya-4ever (2002) and Taken (2008, 2012, 2015); or the Council of Europe (2006) cartoons Not for Sale; or Modern Slavery plays, for example, Fair Trade (2010); or art-installations like Journey. Journey, a walk-in art installation which toured European capital cities between 2007 and 2010, invited members of the public to walk through seven transport containers labelled “Uniform,” “Bedroom,” “Customer,” and so on, each deploying puppets and props to story an aspect of the violence in sex trafficking (“Emma,” 2009).

9 The popularity and power of human trafficking as a narrative of crime (encompassing contemporary trafficking as modern slavery) is easily understood and explained when it reproduces Snajdr’s blend of emotion, authority, and reason. Sticking with Journey, the master crime narrative of an evil trafficker and sexually exploited victim of trafficking is plausible and rational (the appeal to reason). It carries legitimacy—for fans of Emma Thompson, her celebrity endorsement should be sufficient. For non-fans, the fact its sponsor (the Helen Bamber Foundation) has expertise in human trafficking fulfils Snajdr’s authoritative appeal. And in mistreating women in sex work and abusing children through prostitution, the crime narrative readily connects with human outrage over these innocent and tragic victims of gendered violence (the emotional appeal).

10 To sum up the crime master narrative then, what we see in the discourse is the social and cultural template for the genuine victim of trafficking. In the master narrative, a socially and culturally diverse group of individuals undergo an official and administrative transformation. Linda Hitchcox (1993) terms this a “process of reification” wherein victims of different ethnicity and culture are naturalized in identical circumstances, problems and needs. Thus, the genuine victim of trafficking fully embodies the personhood of the victim as narrated in the master narrative. She becomes the narrative “someone” who is physically harmed, psychologically broken, and powerless to free herself. She is only visible as a passive, enslaved, and totally defeated being—and, as Hitchcox observes, this and “little else” (p. 157).

11 Conveniently, what we don’t see is the master narrative’s cocreation of the disingenuous victim of trafficking. The culpable woman, for example, who initiates her movement and gives her initial consent, or takes proactive measures including paying shady ‘travel agents’ to reach her destination, often only to find herself deceived en route and in debt-bondage on arrival. This survivor, despite qualifying as a VoT under international law (Goodey, 2008), is now re-imagined as the criminal migrant. The narrative harm in the social and cultural template lies in the criminalisation of human agency - where a finding for autonomy brings with it the risk of immigration-related detention and deportation for the survivor, who becomes someone culpable and blameworthy in her own exploitation. In research conducted in 2009 with migrant women in prison and immigration detention, 58 out of 103 interviewees self-identified as victims of trafficking (Hales and Gelsthorpe, 2012: 2). The way in which survivors claim and counter the crime master narrative as their own will be considered a little further on in tonight’s talk.

The Security Narrative

12 Closely aligned with the crime narrative, the security narrative stories human trafficking as illegal border-crossings, facilitated by traffickers and/or smugglers. Revisiting Trinch (2003), its pragmatic purpose lies in securing the border against traffickers, who are storied in the official narrative as an external threat from outside UK sovereign borders. However, because the securitization narrative is also discursively linked to political, social, and cultural shifts in attitudes towards migration, it also seeks to secure the border to the criminal migrants (including those disingenuous VoTs) who use undercover tactics to enter the UK illegally for work, education, marriage, and what Elizabeth Povinelli (2012, p. 173) calls “the good life” enjoyed by citizens in the global north. If the crime narrative gives us the social and cultural template for the “right sort of crime victim” (the modern slave or VoT), then the security narrative gives us the social and cultural template for seeing the “wrong sort of migrant.”

13 Within the migration-crime-security nexus in human trafficking, this “wrong sort of migrant” is prototypically an economic migrant made visible for us as someone unskilled, without a UK job offer or savings, unwilling to integrate socially (“Why don’t they speak English?”); politically apart (“Why do they stick with their own kind?”); or religiously different (“Why do they dress like that?”); and, above all, someone undocumented (so encompassing the asylum seeker and refugee). This person (often someone rendered irregular following the refusal of VoT or asylum status) is rendered visible as the “bogus” asylum seeker or racialized “other.” These are the foreigners who threaten national identity (our “Britishness”); national interests (our National Health Service, welfare system, and economic recovery); and who require surveillance. Storied in the popular tabloids through a discourse of “fearism” (Fisher, 2006, p. 51), these are fearful and feared others who steal our pets and “dis” our Queen. For example, The Daily Star (2003) demonizes the Somalian community in “Asylum Seekers Ate our Donkeys,” and The Sun (2011) vilifies an East European Community in “Swan Bake” (for barbecuing the Queen’s swans, sole property of the Crown). Both stories have since become urban legends through their alarming yet credible threats to our social and cultural sensitivities (Brunvand, 1989). The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford published a qualitative analysis of the language of migration in Britain’s newspapers, between 2010 and 2013, which reflects the vitality of this discourse in fearism (Allen & Blinder, 2013).

14 The narrative of a bogus asylum seeker is no longer new, but their profiling as illegal, criminal, and permanent is visibly re-energized in the subtext of the latest UK Immigration Act (2014). For example, the Act outsources surveillance in the form of immigration checks to private landlords, banks, and the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, who are then legally obliged to refuse their services to persons missing the requisite immigration paperwork. Pre-empting claims of racial profiling, the Home Office commissioned “Mystery Shopper” research around the right to rent property scheme. Multiply pairings of equally qualified but ethnically different looking people—one white British in appearance and accent, the other black and minority ethnic (BME) in appearance and related accent—enacted scripted scenarios with landlords and letting agents at three constitutive stages of the rental process: initial contact, registration-property finding, and follow-up. Based on a word frequency coding in the experiences of mystery shoppers in cities piloting the policy, the “right to rent” scheme was only mentioned to BME shoppers. The frequency coding around reference requests, length of residency in the local area, and fees were also higher in BME shopper experiences compared to their white counterparts. Overall, the evaluation report concluded that these differences in dialogue “were not necessarily indicative of discrimination against BME shoppers (Brickell et al., 2015, p. 22).

15 The narrative of the racialized “other” (visible in media fascination with countries of origin) is perhaps most transparent in the ad campaign trialled by the Home Office in 2013. Reflecting an increasingly hard line on illegal immigration, “Go Home” vans were sent into six London boroughs with large South Asian immigrant communities. Fitted with billboards displaying a set of handcuffs and sporting the slogan: “In the UK illegally? Go Home or face arrest,” the campaign was aimed at securing voluntary repatriations. Borrowing language and set speech from the National Front—a far right and whites-only British political party originally seeking repatriation of non-white and now all immigrants (National Front, 2010)—the controversial campaign was dropped within months after only eleven people were found to have left as a direct result of the van adverts. In spite of this, a partial success was claimed for the campaign which boasted “up to £4250 per year savings in public service costs” to health, education, and welfare from one returning “immigration offender” (Home Office, 2013a, p. 6).

16 To sum up the security narrative then, what we clearly see in it is the equation of national security with territorial borders and a discourse linked to shifts in attitude towards migration. The narrative contains the social and cultural template for the “wrong sort of migrant”—someone undocumented, unskilled, and economically precarious, necessary rather than desired, and imaged as the weak link in the security chain protecting polity and culture. If the “right sort of victim” of trafficking is a non-beneficiary in the crime narrative, then the “wrong sort of migrant” in the nexus of migration-crime-security is a non-contributor who strains the UK’s already overstretched infrastructure of social and welfare resources.

17 What is hidden by this lens on security is the reality and complexity of migratory movement as a global reality of socio-economic and political push-and-pull factors, both driving people to leave home and attracting them to travel to more developed and affluent countries in the West (the destination countries of human trafficking). In this push-pull interaction, what we are discouraged from seeing is the economic and social currency of having a migrant workforce pulled in to plug the skills gap and do the jobs we don’t want to do (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2002) —creating “serving classes” (Sassen, 2002, p. 259) of migrant nannies to raise our children, migrant maids to clean our houses, migrant handymen to repair our homes, and migrant casuals to tidy our gardens. It also serves to hide multinational interests in reproducing conditions of slavery through the demand for a cheap and disposable labour force (Bales, Trodd, & Williamson, 2009; Skrivankova, 2014; Waite, Craig, & Lewis, 2015). In what Sharron FitzGerald (2012) terms the biopolitics of imigration management and Kevin Bales (1999) calls the dark underbelly of globalization, Western neo-liberal governments thrive on this labour supply whilst legally and socially exempting this exact same labour force from any rights tied to citizenship (Blitz, 2014).

18 In assessing levels of harm, if the harm within the crime narrative lives in the process of reification (wherein human agency is criminalized in antithesis to the genuine and unagentic VoT), then in the master narrative of security—as storied within human trafficking—the central harm can be visualized in what Zygmunt Bauman (1993) dubs the process of adiaphorization. Theorized in an interview as “stripping [our] gaze of its inborn ethical power” when looking at the Other (Dawes, 2010), this process happens when actions of violence and dehumanization are routinized by State actors as efficient, cost effective, and expedient. As seen by Hannah Arendt at work in the Nazi concentration camps and by Giorgio Agamben inside refugee camps, adiaphorization rationalizes this process in moral indifference and sees the Other—any racialized migrant body including the economic migrant who becomes forcibly trafficked, or the legal migrant who becomes irregular (for example, the visa overstayer)—as falling outside our human sphere of moral obligation no matter what the human crisis. According to Bauman, information technologies accelerate this distancing of ourselves from the Other until, as Lyon (2010) warns: “poorer people who seek to maintain some contact with the formal economy are ‘deselected’ or ‘demarketed’ or travellers whose names or origins are deemed dubious find themselves on lists, to be delayed or detained” (p. 333).

19 How women view themselves in the narratives, and which they embrace to promote their political visibility is now considered in the third and final section of tonight’s lecture. The narrative texts which follow are taken from in-depth, semi-structured interviews and a focus group with a diverse group of survivors—25 of whom were trafficked into the UK, and one British woman who had been trafficked out of the UK (De Angelis, 2016). Between them, participants come from 14 different countries and are trafficked for the purposes of sexual, labour, and criminal exploitation, as well as servile marriage, all of which are recognized by the 2011 EU Parliamentary Directive as forms of human trafficking (European Union Parliament, 2011, p. 11).

Survivors’ Stories (Crime)

20 For women in this study, one of the things at stake in the master crime narrative is holistic identity as the genuine victim of trafficking is reified in the state and personhood of the VoT. It behooves me to say at this point that one survivor in this study fit the social and cultural template of the genuine victim of trafficking. This is Tijana, born in Nigeria and 24 years old at the time of the research. As someone orphaned at the age of 2, used as a child labourer to sell food on street corners by age 8, trafficked from Nigeria to Italy for prostitution at 13, and re-trafficked out of Italy to the UK in her early twenties, it is impossible to gain any impression of Tijana outside of a totalizing victim of trafficking identity. Tijana’s life story corresponds with the extreme end of trafficking rooted in criminal victimization and exploitation. She is the VoT in the social and cultural template of the crime grand narrative. But what of the remaining 25 survivors who do not fit this template of the VoT, yet plainly refer to themselves in interview as “victims” and when asked the question “Do you think you were trafficked,” reply “Yes.” How do these survivors story this sense of a trafficked self?

21 Helpfully, we are reminded that “narratives rely on a shared repertoire of cultural stories to be understood” (Sandberg, 2016, p. 167) and, in this way, no one is totally immune from the influence and effects of dominant narratives and their ways of seeing. Despite being such a diverse group, the fact so many women draw from the slavery narrative is testimony to the strength of a master narrative. In interviews, for example, Aarti, 38, from the Punjab, describes herself as a “modern slave”; Tamara, 33, from Ukraine, as “a victim of human slavery”; Zara, 26, from Pakistan, as having been “held in slavery”; Nina, 32, from India, as having been “treated as a slave”; and Fatuma, 36, from Gambia, as having been a “prostitute slave.” In a separate focus group on lived experience, several of the focus group women refer to living and working in conditions akin to those of a “slave.” In encouraging them to expand on this, women used widely recognized slavery-like practices to describe their sense of a trafficked self (Bales, 2005). These included the practice of not being paid for their labour, having little say in decision making, having their movements curtailed, and generally lacking control over their own lives.

22 What these self-identifications tell us is that women plainly hear and draw on official trafficking talk to help them make sense of what has happened and to convey this subjective awareness to others. This becomes clear in their narrative use of introductory phrases like: “If I say to you that...” and “If I show myself as...,” then I, the interviewer without a trafficking experience, would be able to see and understand this personal and painful event. Moreover, as Trinch reminds us (2003), there is always a pragmatic purpose to any storytelling. When asked why >women chose to story their sense of a trafficked self in slavery, many of the women trafficked into sex work and servile marriage agreed they wished to escape the stigma surrounding sex trafficking and prostitution. Being seen as a modern slave questions the morality of the slave trader and not the slave. In the focus group, women trafficked for sexual exploitation and servile marriage talk about co-ethnics—that is, migrants of the same ethnicity—ostracizing them for being transnational wives or street workers.

23 Other survivors in this study firmly story their trafficked self in the crime narrative. Let me give you an example of this. Laila—a 26-year-old British woman of Pakistani heritage, who was forcibly taken out of the UK for a servile marriage—stories her trafficking self in the following way:

I had to stay there [in Pakistan] and was told after about 3 to 4 months that if I didn’t get married, I wouldn’t be able to return to the UK. I had my passport taken away from me so I couldn’t prove who I was... He knew from day one I didn’t wanna marry him. Mmm… he knew that very well and I even spoke to him before, without anyone knowing. I said I don’t want to marry you. Please, you know, if anyone can stop it, at least maybe the guy has a say, the girl doesn’t, no! But he wanted to come to the UK, didn’t he, and I was his passport.

Although plainly a victim of trafficking crime, having been taken abroad (the movement), by force (the means), for servile marriage (the exploitation involving domestic and sexual servitude), Laila is keen to express she is no passive actor in her storied account of events. She actively succeeds in isolating the man and courageously speaks out against being forced to marry him. But look at how Laila constructs her trafficking identity. Laila embodies herself in genuine victimhood using the top criminal descriptor of human trafficking—confiscation of documents and control of another through such unscrupulous means (Home Office, 2013b, p. 4). She rejects the embodied VoT of the social and cultural template (someone who is totally helpless and unagentic), but she claims genuineness by embodying one of the criminal descriptors in the dominant crime narrative of trafficking (in her case, a passport). To say this, however, is not to imply that Laila’s or other women’s narratives are products of “conscious strategies by storytellers” (Sandberg, 2016, p. 155). Rather, it suggests that women’s storying of experience in modern slavery and Laila’s construction of her trafficking self in a criminal descriptor of trafficking (in her case a passport) supports Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977) theorization of “practical sense learnt through socialization” (Sandberg, 2016, p. 155).

24 Having shared women’s uptake of the crime and slavery narrative in storying their sense of a trafficked self, the following counter narratives lead neatly into how women see and want to be seen as social and cultural beings outside of the identity template. Whilst I (and I did stress that no one is immune) embarrassingly modelled sensitivity to the dominant victim narrative (by dressing down for the focus group and purposely removing all items of jewellery suggestive of affluence or status), these same “slaves” and “victims” dressed up to meet and greet me. Women arrived for the focus group in outfits evidencing identity and ties to home—in other words, a life outside of the trafficking event. Several women turned up in colourful saris (traditional Indian dress) and others in brightly patterned hijabs (a Muslim headscarf which covers the head and neck but leaves the face free). One woman wore a mussor (a Gambian head dress cut from vividly dyed cloth), and even women in jeans and T-shirts accessorized them with ethnic jewellery. Such displays of dress visibly link women with customs and practices of home and a life outside of the trafficking event.

25 The problem is that when a master narrative of total victimhood and a counter narrative (however slight) of identity outside this personhood meet, narrative harm in the form of disbelief over having been trafficked sets in (as told by women who appear at official interviews in colourful dress and talk about their life back home and aspirations for the future). The influential role that stories and especially grand narratives play in “shaping and upholding cultures and identities” (Sandberg, 2016, p. 155) means that the more a woman and her identity (judged by her demeanour, appearance, conversation and personal experience) contradicts the template expectation of seeing a physically and psychologically broken victim of trafficking, the harder it is for women and their stories to be accepted as credible. For example, Sofia, 30, from Moldova, was smuggled abroad for work and trafficked into a brothel in the UK. This is how Sofia’s caseworker (a governmental enforcement officer) assessed her victim status in his interview with me:

It took 5 years for her to gain this health diploma, which she got just as things started to break down in the Balkans. One of the hospitals in the capital city had just closed and was not taking any new trainees and the second closed down for lack of equipment. The door on her professional career was just about closed…she needed to re-invent herself elsewhere as a radiographer. (GEO 5)

Tamara, 33, from Ukraine, who self-identified as a “victim of human slavery,” succeeds in escaping her trafficker and stories her misidentification as trafficked in police attitudes towards sex workers:

They never asked me what I think. Only told me what they think. Told me to go to Home Office for asylum! I think they saw me on my own, dressed for sex and thought I was foreign prostitute....I never made it there. When I left police station, I was found by men and returned to my owner [trafficker]. The police knew nothing.

Without credibility, it is hard for any “wrong sort of victim” to access any type of referral to overstretched trafficking services. Administratively gate-kept by the State-run National Referral Mechanism (NRM), only women closely fitting the social and cultural template are seen as eligible for the full package of rights outlined in the Convention (Council of Europe, 2005, Article 12, 1a-f). This so called “reasonable” finding for a VoT brings access to six measures: secure accommodation and an adequate standard of living, emergency access to medical treatment, any necessary translation and interpretation services, counselling and rights-based information, legal help, and education for children. Only women seen to have a strong or so called “conclusive” fit with the template are guaranteed rights to 12 months temporary residency in the UK (Home Office, 2008, p. 50). As Arthur and Joan Kleinman (1997) observe, without a trauma story there is no emotional currency with which to purchase State help.

Survivors’ Stories (Security)

26 If holistic identity and access to services are at stake in the dominant crime narrative, then the intersectionality within global human movement is under scrutiny in the master narrative of security. Tamara’s personal account of her cross-border journey from Moldova (on the border with Ukraine) to Turkey highlights how what starts out as an ordinary migration can become trafficking en route:

My husband was in prison, leaving me to raise three small children alone, so I took a factory job on the border. The factory was going bust and my workmate told me we could earn a month’s pay for a week’s worth here, if we went as croupiers to Turkey. So I agreed and paid her 300 euros to arrange our travel. On the day we were to go she was sick but said her boyfriend would accompany me. I didn’t know him. He could have been anyone, even a trafficker. But I was still a young mother and bored with my life. We badly needed the money for a flat and my sister-in-law said she would take care of my children as well as her own. So I went on an adventure… When we crossed the border by car, he handed me over to someone else, who took me to a boarding house for the night. The next day, we travelled some more by car and I arrived at this big house. Here things started to go wrong. Once there, they took my passport and belongings away and told me they owned me. I was told to have sex with men or they would find my children and hurt them. They had my kids’ photo which I kept in my bag. At first, I thought it was all a big mistake and that they would let me go. And so it began….

The security narrative struggles with seeing trafficking stories as migration stories with all their informal, irregular, and illegal conundrums. Yet personal stories closely reflect Jaqueline Berman’s (2010, p. 93) visualization of this intersectionality between migration and trafficking. In the example just shared, Tamara legally crosses a foreign border (she owns a passport and pays for her travel visa), with an economic purpose (though possibly working illegally since there is no mention of a work visa), and ends up being trafficked. Her trafficking story is plainly also a migration story (the economic project being to earn money to buy a flat). However, her proactive role in her migration story makes her the “wrong sort of victim” in her trafficking story, and suspicion over whether or not she intended working without a work visa makes her the “wrong sort of migrant” in her migration story. To cite a different example, Sofia, 30, from Moldova, entered the European Union illegally by paying a “travel agent” (possibly a smuggler or a trafficker) 500 euro for fake travel and work permits. By the end of her journey, she was in debt-bondage over extra fees charged for accommodation, food and living expenses. Sofia’s trafficking story is also plainly a migration story (the economic project being to fund her mother’s operation via salaried health work or, failing that, blue collar work). However, her criminality in paying for false papers makes her the “wrong sort of victim” in her trafficking story, and her non-EU status makes her the “wrong sort of migrant” in her migration story. Sofia was eventually apprehended during a police raid on the brothel in which she was forcibly working, and remanded in custody on a charge of using a false passport to enter the UK. Sofia received a twelve-month custodial sentence which she served in a women’s prison and where she was detained, post-sentence, awaiting deportation. Sofia was immigration fast-tracked and deported as an “illegal alien” within days of completing her prison sentence.

27 The narrative harms in not seeing a trafficking narrative as a migration narrative and vice versa lies in the 3-Ds of immigration deterrence. Trafficked survivors, like Sofia above, risk detention as a foreign national prisoner and deportation as an illegal entrant. Destitution (the third D) is rooted in the bio-politics of migration management, whereby governments demand a cheap pool of labour but exclude workers (like Sofia and Tamara above) from rights, legal protections, and benefits afforded to citizens (Blitz, 2014). Once again women see themselves as slaves and story their experiences in slavery. However, in the security narrative, its pragmatic purpose is to illustrate how limited welfare and working rights push formerly trafficked people back into highly exploitative working situations (Aspinall & Watters, 2010; Lewis, Dwyer, Hodkinson, & Waite, 2013). This is how Aarti, 38, from the Punjab—who was thrown out of her servile marriage by her educated and wealthy British husband—narrates her post-migration/post-trafficking destitution:

I thought I would never be poor or on the streets and here I am. I had no benefits, no work, and with a son to support. Sometimes I wiped tables to get cash, another time I gave out leaflets to strangers in the street. But every time it was long hours and hard work and I was paid very little and felt so exhausted. It was like they owned me. I thought I am modern slavery.

28 As Trinch (2003) cautions, although trafficking experience cannot wholly escape the dominant rhetoric of modern slavery, by storying her migration-trafficking experience in slavery, Aarti highlights how destitution (either through lack of welfare or legally regulated employment) increases her vulnerability to economic exploitation and conditions of forced labour. What Aarti’s personal story shows us, in >effect, is one of the ways in which the social and cultural template of the “wrong sort of migrant” replaces old trafficking-related controls in Aarti’s life with new structurally-driven exploitations.

29 One way women counter the security template and its way of seeing the “wrong sort of migrant” is to challenge hostile perceptions of them as non-contributing “scroungers” and “freeloaders.” Against the social and cultural caricature of Schrödinger’s immigrant—someone who simultaneously steals our jobs and is too lazy to work—survivors story ways of becoming and being productive. The counter challenge is visible in women’s voluntary work and in their storying of educational and training choices in a future career:

I started thinking, I can’t work but I can maybe study or do something to get out of the house. So I started looking and chose a language and a computer course. When I came to this country, I never touch a computer. Now I learn ‘cos I will need it when I have work. (Luul, 29, from Somalia, initially smuggled then trafficked for labour exploitation)
I finish make-up artist. I finish beautician last year. I’m finishing level 2 at college now, and today I got some news. Don’t know exactly, but maybe gonna get full time jobs doing hairdressing. I been in a couple of competitions. This is career I can build into a business. (Tamara, 33, from Ukraine, trafficked for sexual exploitation)
My English is improved and is helping me get voluntary job in my daughter’s school…. Now I can look after her and help the teacher look after many childrens. (Nina, 32, from India, trafficked for servile marriage and forced labour outside the home)

Through their volunteering and training choices, women commence the difficult process ofsoftening socio-cultural attitudes of them as “illegal,” “criminal,” and a drain on resources.

30 In conclusion, Lois Presser (2016) believes that “a narrative criminology can assist in the project of social change by clarifying how the official truths that keep people in line get constructed and deconstructed” (p. 143). Hopefully, tonight’s lecture has showcased some of these constructions in the crime and security grand narratives. Equally, I hope survivors’ personal narratives illustrate how women claim political visibility within the social and cultural templates and, crucially, how they contest official ways of seeing the “right sort of victim” and the “wrong sort of migrant” in the migration-crime-security nexus of trafficking. And, in giving the final word in this year’s John McKendy Memorial Lecture on Narrative back to story, I’m going to close with two quotations by the celebrated narrative writer Francesca Polletta. In her book It was like a Fever, Polletta (2006) investigates how narratives work politically, raising the effects of culture and structure on storytelling and stories. Against a discursive backdrop of benefits and constraints, particularly for persons positioned in disadvantage, the innate power of narrative to alter and even improve conditions in the social world is captured this way:

Stories elicit sympathy on the part of the powerful and sometimes mobilize official action against social wrongs. Where authorities are unyielding, storytelling sustains groups as they fight for reform, helping them build new collective identities, link current actions to heroic pasts and glorious futures, and restyle setbacks as way stations to victory. Even before movements emerge, the stories that circulate in subaltern communities provide a counterpoint to the myths promoted by the powerful. (p. 3)

And on a more tender and personal note, Polletta reminisces:

When I was a little girl, my sisters and I had such fine and easily tangled hair that having it combed out by our parents after our baths was painful. The ordeal was made bearable only by the stories my father recounted of an extraordinary girl named Snarly. Her exploits ran to rescuing fleets of storm-tossed ships and rounding up herds of errant cattle – always, of course, with her tangled hair. That was one of my first reckonings with the power of stories. Later my father introduced me to the peculiar satisfactions of textual interpretation, and later still, to those of literary theory” – for which she then goes on to thank him for. (p. xii)

Like Francesca and her alter-ego Snarly, I, too, am thrilled and grateful for this opportunity to parse narrative ideas with tonight’s extraordinary audience of narrative thinkers. Thank you.

1 On November 7, 2016, Maria De Angelis presented the 9th annual John McKendy Memorial Lecture on Narrative at St. Thomas University. The annual lecture, sponsored by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative (CIRN), is named for John McKendy, PhD, a member of the Sociology Department at St. Thomas University and one of the founding members of CIRN, who died tragically in 2008. What follows is a transcript of Dr. De Angelis’ lecture, which she has graciously permitted Narrative Works to reproduce.
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Maria De Angelis, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in the Social Justice Program at Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. Following her work with the National Probation Service, she lectured on community justice and criminology at the University of Bradford and Sheffield Hallam University before assuming her current. at Leeds Beckett University. She is a member of several professional bodies and research networks including the British Society of Criminology;the Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network; and the Wilberforce Institute of Slavery and Emancipation. Her central research interest is in human trafficking: in particular, women's dual experiences of victimization and agency. She is also interested in how displaced and vulnerable groups, such as trafficking survivors, asylum seekers and refugees, rebuild their lives post-trauma. She is the author of Human Trafficking: Women's Stories of Agency (2016).

Copyright (c) 2017 Maria De Angelis