Trafficked and Silenced: How Mainstream Trafficking Discourse Stifles the Voices and Shapes the Stories of Victims

Stream: Gendered Identities: Exploring Sexual Violence
Date: Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Time: 3.15 pm – 5.00 pm


Sexual stereotypes concerning the “good woman”, the “innocent victim”, and the “inviolable man” shape trafficking narratives and those of its victims. Not only do they play a significant role in determining whether certain individuals are identified as victims, but they also determine whether certain individuals – both men and women – identify themselves as victims and the narratives told of their experiences abroad. Yet, few authors critique the unquestioned acceptance of the stories of victims. Moreover, it is often deemed unfriendly to victims and therefore inappropriate to challenge their stories. Drawing on research conducted in Vietnam, Ghana and Ukraine, this paper is a feminist project aimed at examining the ways in which mainstream approaches to trafficking shape victimhood, including how we understand the roles of victims in their own movement as well as their experiences of exploitation. Particularly for returned victims, there may be a need to ensure that their story corresponds with that of the archetypal victim in order to receive compensation or victim support or to avoid being deported as an unlawful immigrant. In turn, this perpetuates sensationalist portrayals of trafficking, erroneously shifting debates outside of the realm of labour exploitation and the rights of migrant workers.


Ramona Vijeyarasa (Presenter), University of New South Wales/ActionAid International
Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa (Ph.D; LL.M; LL.B/B.A) – a human rights lawyer and activist – is the Senior Program Manager for Women’s Rights at ActionAid International. She is author of "Sex, Slavery and the Trafficked Woman: Myths and Misconceptions about Trafficking and its Victims," a cutting-edge resource in this field (Ashgate, May 2015). She has published in leading international journals, including Women’s Studies International Forum; Culture, Health and Sexuality; and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Prior to joining ActionAid, Ramona worked for IOM in Vietnam and Ukraine, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the International Center for Transitional Justice.