Conference Discusses Prosecution to Empowerment

Panelists at an international conference organized by University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences said that the “celebritization” of the global crises is emblematic of the shallow level of dialogue taking place concerning human trafficking.

“The celebrity interest in the issue is emblematic of a number of things: The top down approach to trafficking, the shallow interest, and particularly the pithy elevator pitch approach that the public and policy and lawmakers encourage and endorse with regard to human trafficking solutions,” said panelist Dina Haynes, professor at New England Law in Boston, who shared some celebrity congressional testimonials she had researched. “These pithy elevator pitches feed and are responsive to the voyeuristic interest from the public and Congress members as well,” Haynes added.

The all-day conference marked the beginning of the new leadership role the university and USC Dornsife are taking to provide alternative frameworks and solutions to human trafficking — which is considerably larger than prostitution, and includes domestic, garment, agricultural and other oppressed workers.

“Participants repeatedly raised the problem of the lack of reliable data on human trafficking,” Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, professor and chair of sociology and professor of gender studies, said. “Panelists also discussed the existence of competing definitions of trafficking among the largest stakeholders — and in the process admitting the challenges of developing solutions.”

Connecting the fight on human trafficking with broader movements to empower migrant laborers, the conference addressed how the war on trafficking could become a vehicle for promoting the human and worker rights of migrants. Participants also discussed how to reduce workers’ vulnerability to abuse and how to empower them in the process of labor migration.

“As participants noted, holding a conference focused on the question of ‘rescue’ is the obvious next step,” Parreñas said. “Currently, rescue is the dominant solution to trafficking, one advocated by evangelical Christians, abolitionists and Hollywood celebrities. A conference on rescue featuring its defenders and critics is one that needs to happen.”

The effort also includes catapulting USC into a more prominent and central role in the Interdisciplinary Project on Human Trafficking, which is sponsored by Harvard Law School and American University’s Washington College of Law. This group includes leading legal scholars and ethnographers who are promoting a more nuanced understanding of trafficking. The conference at USC was the third public forum hosted by one of its members, and by far the largest.

Organizers are working on editing the conference proceedings, which will be published by Open Society and made available on its website by next spring. Additionally, Open Society will print 3,000 copies and distribute them to high schools throughout the United States.

Learn more at Pamela J. Johnson’s USC News article: Prosecution to empowerment.

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