Human Trafficking Research Paper on the United States TVPA Law. Essay on Sex Trafficking, Report on Sex Slavery, Prostitution, Project on Sex Tourism Laws.
By: Nicole F. Bromfield, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Social Work Department at the United Arab Emirates, University in Al Ain. Moshoula Capous-Desyllas, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at California State University Northridge.
Abstract: In response to the overwhelming amount of attention to human trafficking, the
debates surrounding its definition, and its focus on the sex industry, the purpose of this
study was to understand the motivations behind the formation of the Trafficking in
Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Using the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) as a
model, data was collected and analyzed in order to examine the coalition identities of key
players and their positions. Through the presentation of in-depth interview data with key
policy players involved in the making of the TVPA, this article illustrates how and why
the TVPA was formulated, the implications of its development, and the necessity for
critical analysis of its effects. The use of alternative frameworks of labor and migration
for understanding trafficking is proposed. Further consideration is given to legislative
changes to eliminate anti-prostitution ideology and to support anti-oppressive
approaches to addressing forced or deceptive working conditions.
Keywords: TVPA, sex trafficking, legislation, prostitution, ACF
Attention to Human Trafficking
While human trafficking is not a new phenomenon, the issue has received an
enormous amount of attention over the last 15 years. An eruption of conferences, debates,
protocols, media coverage, and the development of various forms of legislation have
taken place on a worldwide scale, aimed at the eradication of human trafficking. Reports
of severe human trafficking offenses surfaced in the U.S. during the mid to late 1990s.
Beginning in 1995, policy makers and other stakeholders started paying attention to
human trafficking as an issue of U.S. governmental concern.
During this time, various factors brought attention to trafficking. These include: the
rise of the women’s human rights movement; the increased international labor migration
in response to globalization; shifting economies and political systems resulting in the
feminization of poverty and subsequent migration; and the growing recognition of
organized crime in the underground movement of people (Chuang, 2010). Economic
explanations for the migration and trafficking of women are often conceptualized in
terms of push factors (limited opportunities in countries of the global south) and pull
factors (developed countries’ demand for cheap migrant labor) (Sassen, 2002). Others
have associated the recent surge in attention to trafficking as being linked to the moral
panic over women’s sexuality and autonomy (Doezema, 1998), undocumented migration,
(Capous-Desyllas, 2007; Pattanaick, 2002), racism, and xenophobia (Saunders &
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 244
Soderlund, 2003). Trafficking is a phenomenon that seems unable to escape its historical
association with prostitution, morality and migration control.
The first piece of legislation considered to address human trafficking issues
comprehensively was the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
(TVPA), which was passed under the Clinton administration. Other governments were
encouraged by the U.S. to adopt similar legislation. Although a number of heated debates
ensued during the making of the TVPA, it passed relatively quickly by national coalitions
of unlikely partnerships
Debates in Definitions of Trafficking:
The term “trafficking” has been used interchangeably with diverse concepts such as
illegal immigration, modern slavery, prostitution, and the sexual exploitation of women.
Trafficking definitions fail to distinguish clearly between trafficking and voluntary
consensual migration, often combining women’s migratory movement with trafficking
(Kapur, 2005). Definitions of trafficking are highly contested among scholars, NGOs,
feminists, and governments, thus posing challenges in conducting research studies,
reporting statistics and making generalizations. Debates over the definitions of (sex)
trafficking are grounded in the “feminist sex wars” between abolitionist (radical)
feminists and labor-rights (sex-radical and third wave, transnational) feminists.
Feminist Debates Shape Understanding of Trafficking.
The abolitionist approach to trafficking asserts that prostitution is a violation of
human rights, analogous to (sexual) slavery (Bindman & Doezema, 1997) and “an
extreme expression of sexual violence” (Outshoorn, 2005, p. 145). The beliefs and
assumptions are that no person can truly consent to prostitution, no woman would choose
to prostitute herself by free will, and a woman who engages in prostitution is a victim
who requires help to escape sexual slavery (Outshoorn, 2005). This point of view applied
to trafficking always involves a victim of force, coercion and/or deception. Outshoorn
(2005) asserts that from this lens “…trafficking of migrant women is always seen as
against their will; they are by definition victims of trafficking. According to abolitionists,
trafficking is caused by prostitution; making the best way to fight trafficking, the
abolition of prostitution” (p. 146).
The other major trafficking discourse is the sex worker’s rights approach, which
views prostitution as a viable option and a choice that women make in order to survive.
From this perspective, sex work should be respected, not stigmatized (Outshoorn, 2005;
Chapkis, 1997). The pro-rights or sex radical perspective is supported by the beliefs that
women have the “right to sexual determination,” the right to work in safe labor
conditions, and the right to migrate for sex work wherever they choose (Outshoorn, 2005,
p. 145). For this group, “it is not the work, as such, that violates women’s human rights,
but the conditions of deceit, violence, debt-bondage, blackmail, deprivation of freedom of
movement, etc. be it in prostitution, in domestic labor, or in the commercial marriage
market” (Wijers & Van Doorninck, 2005, p. 2). Some assert that women who are in these
violating conditions “can be victims of trafficking, but not all women sex workers
crossing borders are victims of forced prostitution” (Outshoorn, 2005, p. 147). However,
most labor rights feminists reject the term ‘victim’ because it does not take into account
those migrants who leave their homes for a better economic future.
Labor rights feminists aim to distinguish prostitution from trafficking, and point out
that males are also being trafficked for sexual purposes (not only females) and women are
being trafficked for other types of labor (such as domestic labor or caretaking), not just
for the sex industry. Some activists, such as Obando (2003), highlight that numerous
migrants who identify as transsexual or transgender are also entering the sex industry.
Sex workers’ rights groups advocate for the differentiation between voluntary migration
and (sex) trafficking, in order to advocate for labor rights for those who are voluntarily
working in the (sex) industry. While this position works for protecting sex workers and
other marginalized individuals, Agustin (2005) points out that migrants, when in
countries illegally, do not even have rights that other citizens have.
U.S. Definition of Trafficking
The media, the general public, and policy makers distinguish human trafficking as
being the illegal transportation, exploitation, and sexual enslavement of adults and
children through the use of manipulation of force for the purposes of profit. The common
association of trafficking is one of foreign-born females being sold into prostitution
against their will. However, “this focus on sex and sexuality distorts the image of both
trafficking and sex work” (Ditmore, 2003, p. 2). There is a disproportionate amount of
attention to sex trafficking and not enough attention to trafficking into other industries,
such as sweatshops, construction, agriculture, and domestic labor. A more encompassing
and less biased view of trafficking in persons should refer to men, women, transgender
individuals and children, while addressing both cross-border trafficking for migration and
labor in diverse industries. The controversies in defining trafficking illustrate the lack of a
global consensus with regards to “the extent of trafficking, sexual or otherwise, its
definition, its remedies and even its existence,” with prostitution remaining at the center
of the debate (Saunders, 2005, p. 346).
Development of Current U.S. Trafficking Policy
As disturbing stories of the trafficking of women and children emerged in the U.S.,
the problem of trafficking was addressed as a priority issue by the Clinton Administration
and the 106th Congress. The Clinton Administration set up the interagency International
Crime Control Strategy Group, to address the international crime implications of
trafficking. On March 11, 1998, President Clinton issued a directive establishing a three pronged,
U.S. government-wide anti-trafficking strategy consisting of prevention,
protection and support for victims, and the prosecution of traffickers. This strategy had
both domestic and international policy components (Miko & Park, 2002). In addition, a
Workers’ Exploitation Task Force, which was chaired by the Department of Justice’s
Civil Rights Division and the Solicitor’s Office in the Department of Labor, was
responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of exploitation and trafficking.
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 246
The 106th Congress undertook several legislative initiatives on human trafficking.
The various bills that were introduced focused on prevention, protection, and prosecution,
corresponding with the Clinton framework. However, some of the congressional
initiatives went beyond Clinton’s recommendations, notably, in calling for sanctions
against other countries’ governments that tolerated trafficking (Miko & Park, 2002).
Since its inception, the TVPA has generated controversy and critique. The development
of this policy entailed more than just protecting victims; certain ideologies and agendas
have been promoted and continue to permeate the way that the policy is being
implemented and understood, as will be discussed below.
Purpose of this Research
Through the presentation of quotes from in-depth interview data with key policy
players involved in the making of the TVPA, this article provides an insider’s view of
competing motivations from various coalitions involved in the formulation of U.S.
trafficking policy. This article also illustrates the necessity for a critical analysis of the
legislation’s effects. The purpose of this study is to identify specific coalitions and to
examine coalition identities of key policy players involved in the making of the TVPA, in
order to gain a better understanding of the competing motivations behind the making of
Framework and Approach
The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) was the model used to guide this study.
The ACF allows one to think of agency officials, academic researchers, and journalists as
potential members of advocacy coalitions that engage in “some nontrivial degree of
coordinated activity in pursuit of their common policy objectives” (Sabatier & Jenkins-
Smith, 1999, p. 127). In the ACF, policy change or policy development is analyzed
within a policy subsystem, which includes groups of people or organizations who interact
“regularly … to influence policy formulation and implementation within a given policy
area/domain” (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999, p. 135). The foundation for the ACF is
grounded in the perspective that those involved directly with the policy-making have
well-integrated policy belief systems and that policy players within a particular policy
subsystem will group into distinct advocacy coalitions based on these belief systems.
Determining the existence of advocacy coalitions and defining these advocacy coalitions
gives insight into their motivations and their members. It is through an understanding of
the motivations of advocacy coalitions and their members that we can critically assess the
implementation and implications of the TVPA.
Identification of Key Policy Players
This study focused on the human trafficking policy subsystem in order to gain insight
into the formation of U.S. human trafficking legislation. Identifying subsystem
participants can be accomplished in several ways. One way is to “rely on the records of
participation in arenas in which subsystem members (or their representatives) regularly
participate” (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993, p. 241). The most useful source of records
that Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993) have found consists of public hearings conducted
over time on a specific policy issue. To gather the sample that was used for this study,
public officials testifying in human trafficking related hearings during 1995-2000 were
identified through a search of congressional hearings related to human trafficking. The
1995-2000 time period was chosen because human trafficking was first mentioned as an
issue of concern by the U.S. government in 1995 at the Beijing Conference on Women.
The TVPA legislation was passed in 2000.
A search of the LexisNexis ™ Congressional database using the key words “human
trafficking”, “trafficking victim*”, and “trafficking victim* protection act” and searching
between the years 1995-2000 produced four hearings related to human trafficking. A total
of thirty-five testimonies, speakers, and statements were included. Twenty-seven
prospective respondents were identified through the congressional hearings. These
prospective respondents were then invited to participate in an interview.
Twenty-one in-depth interviews were conducted with key policy players. Twelve
interviews were conducted with individuals testifying in hearings related to human
trafficking during the 1995-2000 time period, who were identified through records of
congressional testimonies, as noted above. Nine other individuals, who were key
stakeholders but did not publicly testify, were also interviewed. These individuals were
identified through a snowball technique, in which other informants mentioned them as
being critical players within the human trafficking policy subsystem and essential to the
Nine of the 21 interviews were conducted in-person. The remaining 12 interviews
were conducted via telephone. Some of the interviews occurred over several telephone
conversations, with one occurring over three separate telephone conversations. The
average length of interviews was 1.5 hours. With the exception of two interviews, which
lasted approximately 35-40 minutes, the interviews ranged from over one hour to 4.5
The informants were representative of those involved in the human trafficking policy
subsystem and included a range of governmental officials, key congressional staffers,
human rights organization representatives, feminist organization representatives, other
NGO representatives, Christian organization members, members of research institutes,
and academics. Nine informants were government officials consisting of elected and
appointed officials, congressional staffers, and others working within the federal
government; nine informants were NGO officials; two informants were independent
academic researchers; one informant was a journalist.
Each informant was asked a set of interview questions related to their policy
positions on human trafficking and on the events that occurred during the making of the
TVPA. The interviews were recorded and later transcribed; notes were also taken during
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 248
the interviews. The interview questions were designed to find out more about the
informants’ involvement in human trafficking as a legislative issue and also to explore
the forces and factors which led to the making of the TVPA.
In order to limit interviewer effects and biases, standardized open-ended interview
questions were used. The protocol included three sets of questions. The first set of eight
questions was related to human trafficking as an issue in general, the second set of six
questions was related to beliefs regarding trafficking legislation, and the third set of seven
questions was related to the making of the TVPA specifically. One additional question,
“Is there anything else on this issue I should be asking about?” was also included in the
The data were categorized and organized by key topics and themes using Atlas ti
software. By categorizing and comparing topics and themes, larger themes emerged that
advanced the understanding of the human trafficking policy subsystem and the impetus
for the legislation. In order to aid in categorizing the key topics and themes, a coding
sheet was developed and used to guide the coding of the data. This was also used to
group each player into a specific coalition (the coalitions emerged during the data
analysis). The coding sheet included ten illustrative components that make up one’s
policy core beliefs, according to the ACF (Sabatier, 1998). Also included on the coding
sheet was a description of each illustrative component as it relates to the human
trafficking policy subsystem. Each informant’s policy core beliefs were coded in order to
place each informant into a coalition. The ACF assumes that policy core beliefs are the
principle “glue” that holds coalitions together (Sabatier, 1998).
Data from this study reveals that there were three distinct coalitions made up of
several sub-groups who coordinated efforts during the making of the TVPA. The
coalitions are briefly described below, and a detailed discussion regarding each of the
1) Liberal Feminist Coalition was made up of some governmental officials,
academics, and some human rights organizations. This coalition was interested in
passing trafficking legislation, but was primarily concerned about protecting the
rights of women and the rights of sex workers to be able to choose sex work as
2) Pragmatic Coalition was made up of government officials and representatives
from non-profit organizations, whose primary concern was creating legislation
that would provide usable services to victims of trafficking. These services
included protection for victims of trafficking (to ensure that victims of sex
trafficking, as well as victims of labor trafficking, received services), and
effective prosecution of traffickers.
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 249
3) Left/Right Coalition was made up of conservative Christians, Republicans,
Democrats, radical feminist organizations, human rights groups, academics, and
others. This was the coalition that was responsible for the legislation’s passage,
and whose primary mission was to equate human trafficking with prostitution.
The core members of this coalition were most interested in restricting
prostitution. They were (and still are) interested in abolishing legalized
prostitution on a global scale.
Liberal Feminist Coalition
This small coalition was visible in the trafficking scene during the mid to late 1990s.
The liberal feminist coalition included several (transnational, third wave, liberal, and
postmodern) feminist academics, organizations, human rights groups, and government
players, including the President’s Interagency Council on Women. This coalition made a
clear delineation between prostitution and human trafficking. One of their main concerns
was protecting the rights of women who choose sex work. The impetus for the
development of this coalition included Hillary Clinton’s interest in trafficking as a social
issue and the development of the President’s Interagency Council on Women, which took
on human trafficking as an issue of their concern.
“A very ideological perspective . . .”
Several academics and feminist organizations became involved in this coalition and
had great influence on the coalition’s ideologies. One informant (who was not involved in
this coalition) felt that the President’s Interagency Council on Women’s position on
trafficking as an issue was shaped by liberal academic feminists and others who shared
similar ideological perspectives on sex work.
This perspective maintained that sex work
was quite different from trafficking and that sex workers should not be viewed as victims
of human trafficking. This informant, when asked about the formation of the trafficking
definition during the making of the legislation, explained,
I’ll be very honest because I don’t have any reason not to be. In my view [the
President’s Interagency Council on Women] got set up and early on, its thinking
was shaped by [liberal academic feminists] and people like that who had a very
ideological perspective and they put their stamp on the early workings of that
and groups like ours which were too small and too far away to be dealing with
that policy level on-going thing. We got pulled into this [other] coalition and we
ended up playing a useful role. We weren’t in the Washington scene. When
trafficking first hit the Washington scene these people really helped shape the
policies that were coming out of the State Department and I don’t think there was
any serious understanding inside of the State Department. I know that’s a
horrible thing to say …they were government people who cared a lot, but they
didn’t really understand the debate, and somebody like [a feminist academic] is
just running circles around them. She knows where she wants to go, and she
really put a stamp on it and you could feel their influence on all of the State
Department’s documents…by the time we got in…their idea of the definition of
trafficking had already been solidified and we had to undo or try to undo some of
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 250
the thinking that we felt was problematic. The definition had been thrown at
them, and there wasn’t a real debate, because we weren’t there…nobody was
really there. That was a little unfortunate, I think.
“[The abolitionists] are twisting where we are coming from on this bill . . .”
According to respondents, the liberal feminist coalition members were almost
dragged into the human trafficking legislation debate and forced to form a coalition in
response to the left/right coalition’s sudden interest in human trafficking. The liberal
feminist coalition was concerned that the left/right coalition was going to “steal” the
human rights issue of human trafficking to use it as a means to abolish legalized
Some informants saw human trafficking as a human rights issue, thus “belonging” to
liberals and Democrats, not to the conservative Christians and Republicans who made up
part of the left/right coalition. A member of the liberal feminist coalition, when asked
about disagreements during the making of the TVPA, mentioned,
We sat down and we said we’ve got to get a response because they [the
abolitionists] are twisting where we are coming from on this bill…it became
forced prostitution very quickly and the kind of conservative, conservative,
conservative, portion of the Republican party was beginning to increasingly
dominate mainstream human rights issues that the liberals, Democrats, and
moderates had generally stewarded…and it was like, “Oh my God, they are
going to take this issue,” and that’s what actually happened. I mean, they won.
They won. The worst, in many ways, has been the trafficking bill in terms of
“It was that or nothing . . .”
The liberal feminist coalition did have some influence on the final outcome of the
TVPA, although the left/right coalition had substantially greater influence over the
legislation. Within the TVPA, there is a two-tiered definition of trafficking. This includes
sex trafficking and severe forms of trafficking in which force, fraud, or coercion must
have been used.
According to some respondents, the two-tiered definition of trafficking was
suggested by a member of the left/right coalition to appease the liberal feminist coalition
members. A member from the left/right coalition, when asked about her organization’s
stance on the two-tiered definition of trafficking mentioned, “some of the groups in our
coalition did not want the [two tiered definition of trafficking] compromise, but it was
clear to me that it was that or nothing. It wasn’t like we could get what everybody else
wanted.” Members of the liberal feminist coalition noted that they had ultimately “lost”,
especially after the TVPA legislation was passed and Bush II came into office and
supported the abolitionist agenda.
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 251
Based on our findings, a second coalition in existence during the making of the
TVPA legislation was a pragmatic coalition, made up of several government players and
NGOs. This coalition was loose and focused on particular pieces of the legislation that
they felt were important, such as protecting victims of labor trafficking and severe labor
exploitation. These players weren’t so interested in participating in the ideological debate
surrounding prostitution versus sex trafficking. Their focus was to see a “good” piece of
legislation passed in order to help victims of trafficking, which is why we label them as
the pragmatic coalition. According to informants, those involved in this coalition were
frustrated with both the liberal feminist coalition members and left/right coalition
members for “hijacking” human trafficking in order to push their own ideological
perspectives on prostitution.
“No one ever cared about them when they were Black or Latin…”
One informant, a former congressional staffer who helped to draft early human
trafficking legislation in the U.S., described the context for U.S. human trafficking
legislation development when asked about it:
It was a perfect storm. You had the Clintons; you had Hillary Clinton. You had
people that despised them. You had this New York Times article describing white
women in slavery. No one ever cared about them when they were Blacks and
Latin. And the Evangelical movement was peaking. It was the perfect storm of
sex, politics, the taking over of the international human rights agenda…It was all
of these factors and it was unbelievable. Unbelievable! I remember not sleeping
well for a year. It was rough. It was really rough.
“You have to try to do something good for real victims . . .”
Another informant, who was part of this coalition and had experience working with
trafficking victims, illustrated the coalition’s basic stance when asked about debates
during the making of the legislation:
I don’t buy that thing that the ‘sex worker types’ push; that every woman has the
capacity [to make her own choices] and doesn’t need to be protected. I also
don’t buy the things that the abolitionists or ‘Rad Fems’ say about [prostitution]
being all rape and all trafficking, because I know enough trafficking victims, so
that pisses me off on their behalf…what [our part of] the law tries to do is steer
this middle ground where you have to try to do something good for real victims.
“I cannot, in good conscious, equate [prostitution] with slavery . . .”
An informant, who was part of this coalition, demonstrated her frustration with both
of the other coalitions when asked about the human trafficking definition debate. This
individual noted, “I despise prostitution, I don’t support it as a right to work issue. I think
it’s inherently harmful, but I cannot, in good conscious, equate it with slavery. I can’t. It
doesn’t have the same coercive quality. Not when somebody can ultimately walk away.
And in slavery, by definition, you cannot.”
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 252
“I don’t see trafficking as a black and white issue; it’s all shades of gray”
A third member of this coalition seemed to agree with the other informants from the
pragmatic coalition when asked about the human trafficking definition debate, saying,
I don’t see trafficking as being a black and white issue, it’s all shades of grey . . .
I’ve met very few classic, sort of like, the Lifetime [Network] kinds of women,
who are trafficked, who are obviously deceived, who are obviously sold, who are
obviously raped, and kept locked up. Most of the women I meet who have been
trafficked or who are in prostitution may have been deceived to some degree or
another, but they may know that they were going to be working in prostitution.
But they feel so desperately in need of helping their families that they will do
anything. So, I see it in many, many, many, many different shades, not just the
ones that people would like to so clearly define; as being trafficked victims or
“They wanted to make all prostitution an anti-slavery movement . . .”
One member of the pragmatic coalition revealed her frustration with the ideologies
that dominated the left/right coalition noting,
The neo-abolitionist movement—they wanted to make all prostitution an antislavery
movement. This is an interesting thing because this is hardcore…if you
look at the 70’s movement, bra-burning exercises, the most extreme ideologies
were in the anti-prostitution camp. So what you got was a group that would write
you off if you said forced prostitution. Because all prostitution isn’t forced.
[Name withheld] is still carrying a torch on how all prostitution is forced…the
movement was extremely oriented to all prostitution is illegal. It is really hard to
sell [this idea] to the mainstream. There was a lot of squabbling during the
legislative crafting phase. Was it going to be prostitution or was it going to be
labor and prostitution…squabbling over how much you were going to come
against prostitution as slavery…This is where the crack in the wall
started…some people just wanted it to be about sex trafficking and my view was
that, listen you know, you’ve got to have a balanced reflection of what modern
day slavery looks like. You are over simplifying things and misrepresenting sex
slavery and severe forms of the definition.
“Punishing the victim all over again…”
An informant, who worked for an international NGO which assisted trafficking
victims in South East Asia, strongly opposed the abolitionist movement. When asked
about different perspectives that were represented during the making of the legislation
I think that [the abolitionist movement] diverts us from being able to carry on a
deeper conversation about sexuality, sexual attitudes, about the demand side of
economic depravity, and economic injustice in this world. We would have a lot
fewer prostitutes if we had economic justice in this world. It’s like were
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 253
punishing the victim all over again by being so terse in our abolitionist attitudes.
It’s very elitist.
“Money that is being taken away from helping victims…”
An informant who was an official for the Department of Defense discussed the
academic research (supported by federal grants) that was used to bolster the abolitionist
position in the early days of human trafficking legislation development.
You know, the State Department has steered millions of dollars of very
questionable contracts to this group of people [neo-abolitionists]…everybody
kept on saying, ‘well you don’t actually have research that shows that every
prostitute is a slavery victim’ and so they then gave the very people, who were
pushing that position, grants to write research papers that they could cite. So all
of the research papers that they cite are by [the academics pushing the neoabolitionist
agenda]. It is disingenuous science is what it is…every dollar that
gets spent on a bullshit grant to put up a crony, is money that is being taken away
from helping victims…they ain’t done shit as far as we can tell.
The pragmatic coalition had some impact on the legislation’s final outcome, such as
the inclusion of protecting labor trafficking victims in the legislation. However, the
pragmatic coalition has since lost control of the trafficking issue to the left/right
The left/right coalition was the most powerful and vital force in the passage of the
TVPA, and is where the hidden motivations and unlikely partnerships in the TVPA
legislation most prominently exist. According to informants, this coalition still exists
today, but does not include the same members; many have drifted from the original
coalition while the hard-line members of the coalition continue to push the abolitionist
agenda. The abolitionist agenda, which appears to be such a vital concern for this
coalition, was not quite clear to some of its former members during the making of the
legislation. This is the reason that we consider the motivations of the left/right coalition
to be somewhat hidden. The players inside of this coalition are considered to be unlikely
partners because the coalition is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as
conservative Christians and radical feminists, players that usually find themselves on the
opposite sides of other social issues, such as abortion.
The primary players in this strong left/right coalition during the making of the TVPA
legislation were faith-based NGOs, radical feminist activists, radical feminist academics,
elected officials (and their Congressional staffers) both Democratic and Republican,
some human rights groups, some NGOs working “on the ground” with trafficking
victims, and some think tank representatives. This coalition’s origin is credited to
Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who initially built a strong left/right coalition
to pass the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (H.R. 2431).
Based on the interview data, the larger goal of the left/right coalition was to get
human trafficking legislation passed in order to: (1) protect victims of trafficking; (2)
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 254
prosecute victims of trafficking; and (3) prevent trafficking into the United States through
various means (such as public information campaigns and educational programs for
would-be victims before leaving their countries of origin).
It must be noted that according to informants, the members of this coalition did not
all necessarily have the same goals or agendas, other than getting some form of
trafficking prevention legislation passed. The debates and in-fighting within this coalition
seem to have been, for the most part, ideological and were based around the prostitution
versus human trafficking debate. In other words, the strongest members of the coalition
(radical feminists) did not see a clear difference between sex work and human trafficking.
The radical feminists also wanted to focus primarily on victims of sex trafficking in the
legislation, largely ignoring victims of trafficking into other forms of labor.
“Actively looking for a new issue to take on…”
According to informants, the left/right coalition did not develop around the human
trafficking issue in particular, but previously existed as the religious freedom coalition.
The religious freedom coalition managed to get the International Religious Freedom Act
of 1998 (H.R. 2431) and its amendment of 1999 (Public Law 106-55) passed. The
Religious Freedom Act seeks to promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout
the world as a fundamental right, assist religious and human rights NGOs in promoting
religious freedom, and to identify and denounce regimes that prosecute their citizens or
others based on religious beliefs.
The religious freedom coalition had so much success with the development of the
Religious Freedom Act that they actively searched for new issues to take on as a
coalition. After the religious freedom legislation passed, according to an informant, “it
established an appetite for building hard left/hard right coalitions and to get things done.”
The coalition specifically targeted human rights issues, which they perceived as being
neglected by the left. A left/right coalition consisting of conservative Christians, liberal
Jews, and human rights groups was put together as an experiment. Michael Horowitz was
the coalition builder and was the driving force behind it.
One informant, when asked about her involvement in the making of the TVPA
What we saw was that once you put together the hard left and hard right, you can
capture the soft middle. [Then] we looked at the universe of the worst religious
persecution scenarios; we were looking for another human rights issue to take on
after the passage of the Religious Freedom Act…something to transport the
coalition over. We chose Sudan. It was a good left/right issue. It was good for the
left because of the genocide, and organizing against war, and peace building. It
was good for the right because of the religious persecution in the South and the
fact that [the Southern Sudanese] were being enslaved…here we had all the
elements that would capture the left and the right…It was the perfect issue and
that’s how we started out with the slavery issue…You could go across the
country and hear pastors and rabbis talking about Sudan and ending the war
against slavery…we thought, OK now is the time, we could do the trafficking
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 255
legislation. We had successfully introduced the slavery in Sudan issue. It was
time to introduce the trafficking issue. It was 1998. We thought, we can do this,
we can start this movement.
Another informant, when asked about how she became involved in the making of the
TVPA, mentioned that she remembered having conversations with other coalition
members discussing what issue they might take on after the religious freedom legislation.
This informant remembered asking, “What are the human rights issues that the left are
not picking up on? Why are they not picking up on human trafficking?”
Some informants believed that the trafficking movement had not taken off because of
the feminists. From the informant’s perspective,
The liberal and radical feminists had been cannibalizing each other over the
prostitution issue. They were completely stymied over it. When coalitions go bad,
they eat their own. These are highly ideological people; they just rip each other
to shreds and won’t stop at anything. As Conservatives, we can shame them into
working with each other. When Conservatives started taking this issue, the
feminists were shamed.
“What are the human rights issues that the left are not picking up on?”
According to informants, the reason that conservative Christians initially became
involved in human trafficking as an issue was because of their involvement in the
religious freedom coalition and their involvement in the Sudan issue. The coalition,
which had gained momentum, was actively looking for another issue of concern for
conservative Christians to tackle. Human trafficking seemed like the perfect issue: the
liberal feminists and Democrats were not paying attention to trafficking at that time, and
they could put a conservative twist on the issue by equating prostitution with human
Another informant who was part of the left/right coalition said,
[Human trafficking] was picked up by this fledgling coalition of mainly
conservatives and faith based organizations that had had a success in the recent
past in passing a law on religious liberty. They weren’t really looking for a new
project, but this one hit them. [Name withheld] brought that to his coalition, and
they had decided that they wanted to do something…
One respondent described the lens through which they were seeing this, when she
was asked how her organization got involved in the making of the TVPA.
What are the human rights issues that the progressives and the left are not
picking up on? Why isn’t the progressive movement picking up on human
trafficking and speaking out on it? It’s the same reason the women’s movement
wasn’t. They had decided that this issue was not in their best liberal interest to
push on…and so this fledgling group picked it up…We were strategizing over the
long term and we said, well, we don’t have to bring them together as one happy
coalition, in fact that will never work because they were too uneasy with one
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 256
another over these other [social] issues. The faith-based organizations didn’t like
the women’s organizations because of the pro-abortion stuff. The women’s
organizations were absolutely adamant about all of this anti-abortion stuff. So
we had to decide to set those two things aside and we decided the best way to do
that was to have a loose coalition and one person would be the conduit for each
one…the first draft [of the legislation] in 1998 changed over the next two years
and there was a lot of compromising.
“We weren’t ever having these discussions out loud…”
The neo-abolitionist agenda was much more nuanced and subtle, so that the real issue
of abolishing prostitution was just too volatile to be discussed openly. As mentioned
previously, the abolitionist agenda was kept hidden by some members of the left/right
coalition, even from other coalition members. In fact, one of our informants mentioned
that the prostitution debate was under the surface. This informant also said, “We all knew
what we were about [in favor of abolishing prostitution] but we weren’t ever having these
discussions out loud.” The neo-abolitionists were not openly discussing the goal of
eradicating all forms of prostitution as part of the larger human trafficking debate, but
rather, this collective goal was kept under the surface until the TVPA legislation was
“We’ve created a monster…”
According to some informants, the relationships among many members of the
left/right coalition seemed tenuous at best. As mentioned, some initial members of this
coalition did not agree with the hard-line coalition members on the definition of
trafficking and other points of debate during the making of the legislation.
Another informant revealed the tensions in the left/right coalition when asked about
debates during the making of the TVPA, mentioning that
There was a lot of slanderous stuff going on—some of the most hardball politics
I’ve ever seen. People, the big guys…they will tell you the human trafficking
movement is the meanest, most difficult movement as far as hurting their own.
We have created a monster. Our humble little group has gotten a taste of getting
something done and it has gotten mean. Majority Republican in both houses and
Bush came in. People became little kings after Bush came in…then it gained
momentum to the degree that it has.
Informants explained that some members had since left the coalition and some had
completely left working on human trafficking legislation. Others remained in the
coalition, but with a very strained relationship with the hard-line coalition members. The
following is what one informant said about this powerful coalition in action:
I felt like it was a very impressive coalition and at the same time it was difficult. I
think what made it work was there were buffer zones and we, in fact, were a
buffer zone. I think that a lot of the groups that we worked with wanted to stay
away from other wings of the coalition because they really do have such
disagreements and we would share those [disagreements].
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 257
“Hijacked by this weird agenda…”
Ultimately, it seemed that the hardliners pushing the abolitionist agenda alienated
some members of this coalition. One informant, who was angry over the ideologies that
existed in the coalition said,
I was always interested in the domestic violence connection to prostitution, all
prostitution. It marginalized the anti-slavery movement. We just passed the
largest slavery bill [the TVPA], and for God’s sake, now that you have a
momentum going, you want to “deep six” this thing by turning it into a weird
agenda against prostitution, right when you have traction on this thing. It gets
people geared up on this ideological thing. We have 144 new countries that
adopted protocols. America allowed it to get hijacked by this weird agenda. It
hurt a lot of the coalition building and served to marginalize…
The unlikely partnerships that formed the left/right coalition served to push the
passage of the TVPA legislation. However, many informants were in disagreement with
the ways in which certain underlying agendas surfaced and led to an anti-prostitution
The purpose of this research was to identify coalitions and examine coalition
identities of policy players involved in the making of the TVPA, in order to gain a better
understanding of the competing motivations behind the making of the legislation. What
we found through our research was that there were more players who were interested in
protecting ideologies and pushing an anti-prostitution agenda, than there were players
who were interested in having strong legislation to protect actual victims of human
trafficking. The underlying moral agenda to abolish prostitution and other conservative
motives led to unlikely partnerships (between Republicans, conservative Christians and
radical feminists), forming the left/right coalition whose voice had the greatest influence
on the formation and passing of the TVPA.
It’s imperative that we acknowledge the ways in which the TVPA legislation was
constructed and formed by a moral agenda, in order to understand why current efforts to
address trafficking are futile and unproductive. Although the TVPA was the most
comprehensive and far reaching legislation that was passed to combat human trafficking
at the time, and despite the large amount of funding provided by the U.S. government that
has been invested into the protection of trafficking victims, few trafficking victims have
actually received protection under the TVPA, especially in consideration of the original
(and unreliable) estimates of trafficking victims that were provided by the U.S.
government. It has been more than ten years now since this legislation has been
implemented and since its enactment, $500 million dollars have been spent or allocated
for anti-trafficking programs (McGaha & Evans, 2009), with little success. The data
presented by the federal government during the making of the TVPA estimated that there
were as many as 50,000 persons trafficked in the United States every year and 700,000
people per year trafficked globally (Footen, 2007; McGaha and Evans, 2008). However,
later those numbers were revised to an estimate of between 18,000 to 20,000 people
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 258
trafficked in the U.S. annually, and then later revised once again to between 14,500 and
17,500 (Footen, 2007).
Recently some scholars and those in the media have blamed the lack of protection of victims, not on ineffective legislation or poor implementation of the TVPA, but on the lack of actual victims. Victims are not being helped because the victims don’t exist.
Despite the high estimates of trafficking victims provided by the U.S. government and the
task forces that exist in every state to find trafficking victims and root out perpetrators of
trafficking crimes (we do acknowledge that victims may be hidden). According to
Weitzer (2011), several myths surround human trafficking such as: trafficking is a
“mammoth” problem, trafficking is a growing problem, and trafficking and prostitution
are the same phenomenon. It has been suggested that the human trafficking problem in
the U.S. has been over exaggerated by those on the far right (conservative Christians) and
those on the far left (radical feminists) in order to push their own anti-prostitution/antisex worker agendas. The discourse on human trafficking and the anti-trafficking moral crusade is a vehicle used to push this agenda. We believe that this assertion can be supported by our interview data.
What seems most unfortunate about the TVPA is that it was passed in a fervor of
outrage and hysteria by several strong coalitions with a highly ideological base and
millions of dollars have been thrown into anti-trafficking efforts by the federal
government with few results. As McGaha and Evans (2009, p. 3) note, “the problem lies
within the context of how the need for the legislation was presented and the zealous
response to the issue.” In addition, anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking groups have
officially partnered and collaborated with government agencies, while those who do not
share the same ideological perspective have been excluded and denied funding (Weitzer
& Ditmore, 2010). Under the Bush Administration, the morally-driven coalitions have
infused their ideology, not only in formation of the policy, but in law enforcement,
research agendas, scholarly articles, media reports, social service provisions, and agency
practices. Millions of dollars are being authorized by the government for the creation of
task forces, the criminalization of customers, and the surveillance of internet-based
businesses, while the anti-prostitution pledge of the TVPA cracks down on prostitution
and ignores the need for larger structural changes within our society.
Trafficking, as a social issue, needs to be re-conceptualized and understood from a
different framework so that we do not continue to oversimplify and sensationalize the
same trafficking narrative that the left/right coalition utilizes to push their agenda.
Legislation needs to be amended to eliminate anti-prostitution ideology and to support
anti-oppressive approaches to addressing forced or deceptive working conditions. A more
socially just perspective would (1) seek to understand and address socio-economic
conditions that promote sex work with consideration for gender, race, ethnicity, and other
embodied identities; (2) focus on all forms of un-free labor, as opposed to just focusing
on the sex industry; (3) acknowledge the diverse experiences of sex workers in various
aspects of the sex industry, without privileging specific narratives to support a moral
agenda; (4) be mindful of the multi-layered experiences of migrants in the sex industry;
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 259
and (5) identify and implement concrete ways in which to provide comprehensive and
meaningful services that enhance worker’s health, safety, agency and control over their
working conditions (Weitzer & Ditmore, 2010).
There is a need to acknowledge and address structural issues of inequality and
oppression which lie at the root cause of social problems (such as trafficking). Alternative
labor rights and migration frameworks need to be taken into account when understanding
the trafficking phenomenon. Diverse perspectives and global voices need to be honored
and incorporated when formulating and implementing policy related to human trafficking
so that the trafficking discourse isn’t dominated by governments and organizations of the
Underlying motives, moral agendas & unlikely partnerships have worked in full force
to silence individuals, communities, organizations and alternative ways of understanding
and conceptualizing human trafficking. The U.S. trafficking discourse and the
corresponding policy needs to be re-evaluated, de-constructed and re-focused to address
global and local structural issues that lead to conditions of un-free labor. The trafficking
phenomenon and its complexity much be situated in the broader context of labor
migration in our globalized economy before we even begin to implement national and
local ways to address the issue.
Agustin, L. (2005). Migrants in the mistress’s house: Other voices in the “trafficking”
debate. Social Politics, 12(1), 96-117.
Bindman, J., & Doezema, J. (1997). Redefining prostitution as sex work on the
international agenda. Retrieved on March 20,
Capous-Desyllas, M. (2007). A critique of the global trafficking discourse and U.S.
policy. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 34(4), 57-79.
Chapkis, W. (2003). Trafficking, migration, and the law: Protecting innocents, punishing
immigrants. Gender & Society, 17(6), 923-937.
Chuang, J. (2010). Rescuing trafficking from ideological capture: Prostitution reform and
anti-trafficking law and policy. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 158(6),
Ditmore, M., (2003). Morality in new policies addressing trafficking and sex work.
“Women Working to Make a Difference” IWPR’s Seventh International Women’s
Policy Research Conference, June.
Doezema, J. (1998). Forced to choose: beyond the voluntary v. forced prostitution
dichotomy In K. Kempadoo & J. Doezema (Eds.), Global sex workers: Rights,
resistance and redefinition (pp. 34-50). New York: Routledge.
Bromfield, Capous-Desyllas/THE TRAFFICKING IN VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT 260
Footen, N. K. (2007). The making of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000:
Viewed through the lens of the advocacy coalition framework. (Doctoral dissertation,
Virginia Commonwealth University).
Kapur, R. (2005). ‘Travel plans: Human rights of transnational migrants’, Harvard
Human Rights Journal, 18, 107-138.
Miko, F., & Park, G. (2002). Trafficking in women and children: The U.S. and
international response. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
McGaha, J., & Evans, A. (2009). Where are the victims? The credibility gap in human
trafficking research. Intercultural Human Rights Law Review, (4), 239.
Obando, A. E. (2003). Migrant sex workers. Retrieved from
Outshoorn, J. (2005). The political debates on prostitution and trafficking of women,
social politics: International studies in gender. State and Society, 12(1), 141-155.
Pattanaik, B. (2002). Where do we go from here? In S. Thorbek & B. Pattanaik (Eds.),
Transnational prostitution: Changing patterns in global context (pp. 114-137).
London and New York: Zed Books.
Sabatier, P. (1998). The advocacy coalition framework: Revisions and relevance for
Europe. Journal of European Public Policy, 5(1), 98-130.
Sabatier, P., & Jenkins-Smith, H. (1993). Policy change and learning: An advocacy
coalition approach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Sabatier, P., & Jenkins-Smith, H. (1999). The advocacy coalition framework: An
assessment. In P. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (pp. 117-166).
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Sassen, S. (2002). Global networks, linked cities. New York: Routledge.
Saunders, P. (2005). Traffic violations: Determining the meaning of violence in sexual
trafficking versus sex work. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(3), 343-360.
Saunders, P., & Soderlund, G. (2003). Traveling threats: Sexuality, gender and the ebb
and flow of trafficking as discourse. Canadian Woman Studies, 22, 35-46.
Weitzer, R. (2011, August 24). Myths about human trafficking. Huffington Post,
Retrieved on Oct. 20, 2011 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronaldweitzer/
Weitzer, R., & Ditmore, M. (2010). Sex trafficking: Facts & fictions. In B. Weitzer (Ed.),
Sex for sale: Prostitution, pornography and the sex industry (2nd ed., pp. 325-351).
New York: Routledge.
Wijers, M., & Van Doorninck, M. (2005). What’s wrong with the anti-trafficking
framework? Background Paper for the “European Conference on Sex Work, Human
Rights, Labour and Migration,” ICRSE (International Committee on the Rights of Sex
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Summer 2012 13(2) 261
Workers in Europe) Retrieved on February 15, 2010 from:
Address correspondence to: Nicole F. Bromfield, Ph.D., Department of Social Work,
United Arab Emirates University, P.O. Box 15551, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Email:
Nicole F. Bromfield, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Social Work Department at the United Arab Emirates
University in Al Ain. Moshoula Capous-Desyllas, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at
California State University Northridge.
Copyright © 2012 Advances in Social Work Vol. 13 No. 2 (Summer 2012), 243-261
Underlying Motives, Moral Agendas and Unlikely Partnerships:
The Formulation of the U.S. Trafficking in Victims Protection Act through
the Data and Voices of Key Policy Players
Nicole Footen Bromfield