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A Closer Look at Sex Trafficking Rhetoric

June 9, 2016

In 2007, when the United Kingdom marked the 200-year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, the British government and its citizens celebrated their proclaimed role in abolishing slavery. Annie Hill, who was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge at the time, noticed something peculiar about Britain’s heroic portrayal of itself. Hill’s interest was piqued by the way Britain represented its abolitionist history and connected it to what is now referred to as “modern-day slavery”: sex trafficking.

The British government’s promise to stop sex trafficking led Hill to ask some important questions–especially considering that the British Empire was built upon the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Hill was interested in how the “historical” and the “contemporary” are connected. She asked, “What does it mean when you say you are going to tackle modern day slavery? And what happens to the people you see as victims?” Hill began to address these research questions in her dissertation as she pursued a PhD in rhetoric at UC Berkeley. She is now expanding on that research in her first book, titled “This Modern Day Slavery: Sex Trafficking, Migration, and Law.”

Hill frames her project globally, asking how sex trafficking is thought about, and what transnational responses to trafficking say about individuals and states. Using her training in rhetoric paired with a critical criminological lens, Hill dissects the British government’s response through its discourse and anti-trafficking infrastructure.The British government’s reaction to trafficking was to change laws and construct the sex trafficking victim as a modern day slave, portraying them as a contemporary counterpart to historical slaves. This analogy, Hill argues, does not explain exploitation in migration today or provide an accurate account of Britain’s historical relationship to slavery.

Hill’s research resonates with critical analyses on gender, women, and sexuality that are characteristic of the department. Hearing Hill speak with excitement and true passion for her work affirms her value to the department. Her contribution in “This Modern Day Slavery: Sex Trafficking, Migration, and Law” will invite readers to reframe the way they think about sex trafficking–a necessary action–and encourage this kind of critical thought in all societal analyses.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.