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Anti-trafficking

The Anti-trafficking movement recreates the violent racist and patriarchal practices of state surveillance—it’s genealogy is founded on the fear of “white slave trafficking”; the plan manifests racialized and patriarchal fears of saving white women while black and brown bodies are rendered expendable


Kang 2015 [Laura Hyun Yi Kang Chair & Associate Professor, Gender and Sexuality Studies School of Humanities Associate Professor, Comparative Literature School of Humanities Associate Professor, English School of Humanities Ph.D., UC Santa Cruz, History of Consciousness; "Surveillance and the Work of Antitrafficking." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 39-57.//KHS]

By hailing different configurations of women as objects and subjects of surveillance, the long history of efforts to uncover and combat the “traffic in women” offers an instructive case for feminist surveillance studies at this important moment of field formation. If a feminist critique and modification of an already existing yet discernibly unfeminist surveillance studies through a focused attention on women under surveillance is the task at hand, we might attend to how public outcry against the traffic in women has activated and rationalized state scrutiny and control over female bodies when it comes to disease, sexuality, morality, and labor. The Contagious Disease Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) in England created a “morality police” and authorized officers to subject women suspected of prostitution to compulsory “surgical examination” for venereal disease and forced confinement in a “lock hospital” if they were infected. This example reminds us to bear in mind the historical layers of targeted material-corporeal violence that conditions more contemporary technologically mediated and disembodied modes of surveillance. The history of antitrafficking compels attention to the transnational and racist dimensions of the surveillance of women. The practices of compulsory examination, treatment, and detention of local women were a crucial component of British colonial administration throughout Asia in the early 1800s. With the spread of imperial settlements and the surge of international labor migrations in the second half of the nineteenth century, borders and transit hubs such as ports and railway stations came to be seen as dangerous vectors in the transmission of disease, especially from the colonies to the metropoles. While the sensationalist discourse of “white slave traffic” engendered sympathetic figurations of female vulnerability, it also fueled and justified suspicious regard of traveling female bodies. Alarm about the high rates of venereal diseases among soldiers in the First World War (1914–1918) galvanized a new round of concerted state actions to monitor and regulate transnational female movement and sexual labor (Gorman 2008, 200). The early history of antitrafficking includes determined efforts by certain women to contest state tactics of state surveillance as discriminatory and dehumanizing in what we might identify as a determinedly antisurveillance feminism. An oft-repeated account traces the origin of the international movement against the “traffic in women” to the concerted opposition to the Contagious Disease Acts. On the other hand, if we follow the suggestion of Ummni Khan’s essay in this volume, where a distinctive form of “feminist surveillance” is the phenomenon under critical scrutiny, we should attend to how the antitrafficking work of women social reformers and feminist activists have aided and abetted state scrutiny and control over both female and male bodies. The feminist project of making women and gender visible within and across numerous disciplines and interdisciplinary studies is rendered especially contradictory when articulated in terms of a knowledge field that starts off from the problematization of visibility as a mode of subjection and regulation. Surveillance betrays and degrades the liberatory promise of visibility. Then too, trafficking frustrates the sweeping reach of surveillance. As one of the most hyperbolized and enduring subjects of journalistic exposés, academic scholarship, government investigations, and international relations, the traffic in women bears an immense and prolific archive of documentation and analysis. However, as activists, policymakers, and academic experts have repeatedly pointed out, the clandestine, coercive, dispersed, and mobile aspects of trafficking resist unequivocal verification and clear representation. The archive of antitrafficking offers up a long, jagged history of both diverse surveillance rationales and tactics, as well as multiple surveillance failures and impossibilities. In this essay I argue that a persistent racist preoccupation with the fate of white women demarcates one such fault line. Even as the invocation of a generic “traffic in women and girls” in the early twentieth century expanded the reach of the problem and the corresponding modalities of vigilance, state and civil surveillance of trafficking have always been differentially entrained on different female bodies as vulnerable or dangerous. The work of antitrafficking in the League of Nations during the interwar period is particularly instructive for examining the multiple contradictions outlined above. The League served as an important historical and institutional pivot between the imperial regimes carried over from the nineteenth century and the post-Second World War emergence of newly decolonized countries and the global governance regime associated with the United Nations. In the aftermath of the First World War, the traffic in women occasioned a compelling rationale and platform for the coming together of nations with divergent interests, shifting borders, and unequal resources. From its inception, the League of Nations was engaged with addressing the traffic as an urgent and indisputably international problem. Article 23c of its covenant thus “entrusted the League with the general supervision over the execution of agreements with regard to the traffic in women and children.” Calibrating the surveillance of women’s cross-border movements among states and nongovernmental organizations was crucial to the incipient conceptualization and enactment of international cooperation. From 30 June to 1 July 1921, the League convened an International Conference on the Traffic in Women and Children in Geneva. In his opening speech, the Belgian foreign minister Paul Hymans heralded the occasion: “Hitherto treaties of peace have only dealt with questions of frontiers, indemnities and commercial and financial interests. For the first time in the history of humanity other interests are therein included and among them the dignity of human labor and the respect for women and children” (quoted in Metzger 2007, 59). In the spirit of this new internationalism, it was suggested that the phrase “traffic in women and children” replace “white slavery,” thereby “making it clear that measures adopted should be applied to all races alike” (League of Nations 1927, 8). Such universalizing platitudes obscured the imperial genealogy, with its persistent racial demarcations and national interests, of the discriminating and targeted surveillance of women’s bodies, sexuality, work, and migration. In principle, the framing of the traffic in women as a global human problem necessitating international cooperation and coordination rendered these member states and their varied laws and policies regarding sex work, labor, age of consent, emigration, and immigration the target of a new supranational regime of surveillance, judgment, and proper accreditation. This framing held out the potential of clarifying the uneven sexual economies and topographies, which had been carved out by racism, patriarchy, and competing empires. In practice, however, even after the move to replace “white slave traffic” with the more neutral and inclusive “traffic in women,” a distinction and separation continued between “white women” and their racialized others. Persistent racial obsessions and racist blind spots impeded and exposed the limits of the League’s attempts to coordinate international policy and action against the traffic in women by implementing what were deemed newly effective modes of undercover surveillance and expert data gathering. On 15 December 1920, the Assembly of the League of Nations adopted several linked resolutions. In addition to urging those governments who had signed the 1904 agreement and the 1910 Convention for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic to put them into operation “immediately,” another resolution called on the League’s Council to convene an International Conference of Traffic in Women and Children, which would be charged with the “task of endeavouring to harmonise the opinions of the different Governments in order that common action may be taken” (League of Nations 1921b, 596). Toward that end, the Assembly authorized the Secretariat to issue to all member states a questionnaire that inquired about domestic laws regarding trafficking, the penalties prescribed for specific cases, and statistics for prosecutions and convictions. The 1921 International Conference in Geneva concluded with the recommendation that each member nation submit annual reports on both the traffic in their territories and their domestic antitrafficking efforts. The League of Nations thus took on the role of an international clearinghouse. It also passed a new, more expansive International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children in September 1921, which increased the age of consent of women engaged in prostitution from twenty to twenty-one. The League also appointed a permanent Advisory Committee on the Traffic of Women and Children, comprising nine national “delegates” and five “assessors,” each representing an international voluntary organization. When the League sponsored its own official investigation of the traffic in the 1920s, it proceeded in two stages and resulted in two separate publications. The first, published in 1927 and titled Report of the Special Body of Experts on Traffic in Women and Children (hereafter, the 1927 Report), comprised 270 pages. The second report, published in 1932 and titled Commission of Enquiry into Traffic in Women and Children in the East (hereafter, the 1932 Report), was much longer, at 556 pages. Paul Knepper has hailed the two inquiries together as not only “the first worldwide study of human trafficking” but also “the first ever social scientific study of a global social problem” (2011, 96). The 1927 Report was notable for inaugurating the use of a traveling commission, which comprised specially trained “experts” who visited 112 cities and districts across twenty-eight countries to conduct “on the spot” inquiries. In addition to producing first-person observations of local conditions, these experts interviewed over 6,500 individuals, including government officials, law-enforcement officers, and antitrafficking voluntary associations in these locations. The commission also relied on undercover investigations by specially contracted agents and sometimes met directly with members of the “underworld,” including procurers, madams, and prostitutes, in order to uncover “facts” that might be hidden or misrepresented by official statistics and national reports. Thus, the 1927 Report was held up at the time as having “revolutionized League methods in the investigation of social problems” (Boeckel 1929, 234). Three specific aspects of these two reports compromise the claims to both their international expansiveness and their empirical innovations. First, both reports were blatantly concerned with the fate of white women. The 1932 Report is especially striking on this point in its clear demarcation between “Traffic in Occidental Women in Asia” and “Traffic in Asian Women” and in its unabashed concern about the sexual fate of Russian women refugees in China. This provides evidence that the imperialist, racist, and nationalist foundations of early British state regulation of and voluntary vigilance against prostitution from the nineteenth century preconditioned the later antitrafficking work of the League of Nations. Second, there was a specifically American genealogy for the 1927 Report’s use of “on the spot” and “undercover” investigations, which had been deployed earlier as part of the “social hygiene” movement in the United States. Third, there were substantive differences in methodology and composition between the two reports, which demonstrate the epistemological blind spots imposed by persistent racialist and racist thinking.

The dangers of traffic in women has historically been exacerbated by fear of violence from policing; there is no safe haven for women of color who are often forced to stay with abusers to avoid the punishment of the law—this reaffirms the racialized double standard that criminalizes black women


Kang 2015 [Laura Hyun Yi Kang Chair & Associate Professor, Gender and Sexuality Studies School of Humanities Associate Professor, Comparative Literature School of Humanities Associate Professor, English School of Humanities Ph.D., UC Santa Cruz, History of Consciousness; "Surveillance and the Work of Antitrafficking." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 39-57.//KHS]

The League’s racially motivated and demarcated handling of the traffic in women must be framed in relation to a longer history of imperial expansion, labor exploitation, and gendered labor migration in the nineteenth century. Well before the domestic enactment of the Contagious Disease Acts in England in the 1860s, the practices of medical surveillance, forced treatment, and physical isolation of women were a crucial component of British colonial administration throughout Asia in the early 1800s. A lock hospital was established in the Madras presidency in 1805, and others could be found throughout the British Empire in Asia, including in Penang, in the Malay Peninsula (Burton 1994, 130). In her comprehensive study Prostitution, Race, and Politics, Philippa Levine writes, “It is in India, however, that we see the workings of the early system most vividly.” Levine continues: “William Burke, inspector general of hospitals for the army in India, outlined his ideal plan in 1827: a register of prostitutes; their compulsory examination fortnightly, with certification for the healthy and hospitalization for the infected; and punitive measures for women failing to appear for examination. These principles would become the core of the empire wide regime enacted three decades later” (2003, 38).1 Thereafter, Hong Kong’s Ordinance No. 12 was passed, in 1857, which mandated brothel registration and regular medical examination. Since “the ultimate goal of regulated prostitution was to provide ‘clean native women’ for foreign military personnel,” the ordinances in Hong Kong were “effectively limited to Asian women servicing foreigners” (Scully 2001, 81–82). British-administered lock hospitals could also be found throughout Asia, including treaty ports in Japan. In addition to the presence of British colonists and soldiers throughout Asia, several significant migrations in the nineteenth century shaped the peculiar contours of the 1932 Report. A migratory route of women who were “typically already professional sex workers” from Europe and the U.S. to China began with the Opium War (1841–1842) and accelerated after the introduction of steamship travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, in 1869 (Scully 2001, 79). The rapid economic development of port cities like Hong Kong and Singapore was accompanied by the growth of large red-light districts employing mostly Chinese and Japanese women, which were tolerated by colonial authorities as a “necessary evil” to placate the large population of migrant male laborers (Warren 1993, 34). In her account of the “traffic in sexual labor,” Eileen Scully (2001) includes Chinese women’s immigration to the United States in the 1840s as an early example of the traffic, and she further points to the presence of Chinese and Japanese women in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Australia, and South Africa by the late 1800s. Borders, ports, and other transit zones came to be regarded as especially dangerous and were closely monitored to ward off diseases. The increasingly vociferous discourse of venereal disease as a “racial poison” and a “racial threat” in the 1860s coincided with an actual decline in infections (Levine 2003, 5). This setup expressed anxieties about racial purity in the face of both increased white female emigration and the immigration of nonwhite others. The authors of the 1927 Report acknowledge its link to earlier strands of antitrafficking work and its internationalization, which began in England and Western Europe in the nineteenth century. In 1869 Josephine Butler and other reformers founded the Ladies National Association (lna) for the Repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts. Regarding the compulsory physical examinations as “symbolic rape,” the lna “meticulously kept track of the number of examinations in which no venereal disease was discovered” and considered them to be “the central inequity of the Acts” (Bristow 1977, 82–83). Butler later established the British, Continental, and General Abolitionist Federation, in 1875, which extended the movement to abolish licensed brothels to the continent, since it was believed that the system of state-regulated prostitution in certain continental countries like France encouraged and facilitated the cross-national trafficking of women and girls. The federation convened an International Congress in 1877 and played a crucial role in sponsoring and financially underwriting targeted and on-the-ground investigations of the traffic. The 1927 Report mentions how their efforts led to an official British inquiry into the traffic of women and girls to the continent, which in turn resulted in the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment, as a model precedent for how concerted investigations could lead to effective regulation. After the repeal of domestic laws in 1889, the continued use of contagious-diseases ordinances in the British colonies and protectorates shifted the focus of antitrafficking measures to these overseas territories. The British, Continental, and General Abolitionist Federation was renamed the British Committee for the Abolition of the State Regulated Vice in India and throughout the British Dominions. In addition to interviewing soldiers returning from abroad, the organization employed both paid agents and voluntary supporters, who conducted investigations in India in 1891 and 1892, and also in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the Straits Settlements (Levine 2003, 104). The work of antitrafficking enjoined and enabled certain Anglo American women to participate actively in an early form of transnational knowledge production that predated and presaged the League of Nations inquiries. In 1882 Butler personally encouraged the American missionaries Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew and Katharine Bushnell, of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, to undertake an onsite investigation of trafficking and regulated brothels in India, which was later published as The Queen’s Daughters in India (1899). Andrew and Bushnell reported that “regulation was rampant and that Indian women submitted rather than face expulsion from the cantonments” (Burton 1994, 136). It is significant to note that their vigilant gaze was also trained on the imperial state and its “sanctioning of incorrigible soldierly behavior” (Levine 2003, 104). In the 1890s there emerged another strand of antitrafficking work in Britain that was affiliated with social-purity reformers, who advocated for the state oversight and regulation of prostitution. The National Vigilance Association (nva) began to organize an international campaign against “white slave traffic” and garnered the support and endorsement of state officials. It also convened an International Congress on White Slave Traffic in London, in June 1899, which the 1927 Report hailed as “the starting-point of a complete organization for defensive and active measures against the traffic” (League of Nations 1927, 8). The nva spearheaded a new organization, named the International Bureau (ib) for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women, which fostered “a close and permanent agreement . . . among the philanthropic and charitable societies of different countries to communicate to each other information as to the emigration of women under suspicious circumstances, and to undertake to protect the emigrants on their arrival.”2 The various national committees of the ib became actively engaged in the work of monitoring and managing the transnational movements of European women. In addition to being prominently led by men, the nva and the ib cultivated and enjoyed a close relationship to the state. They received some financial support from their respective governments and also worked with law enforcement and immigration officials in the exclusion and repatriation of foreign women suspected of being prostitutes (Limoncelli 2006, 51). Such heightened vigilance did not, however, translate into increased protection of women from exploitation. Writing of the period from 1895 to the First World War, Scully points out, “Policing and regulatory responses exacerbated the situation, as migratory prostitutes under siege became more reliant on pimps and more vulnerable to corrupt officials” (Scully 2001, 84). The ib played a leading role in coordinating the first International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, which was signed on 18 May 1904, as well as the 1910 International Convention for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic, which the League of Nations later Surveillance and Antitrafficking 47 adopted and expanded. Under the auspices of antitrafficking, both the 1904 and 1910 documents asserted the signatory state’s responsibility for monitoring the transnational movement of girls and women. According to Article 1 of the 1904 Agreement, the signatory countries would “establish or name some authority charged with the co-ordination of all information relative to the procuring of women or girls for immoral purposes abroad” (League of Nations 1927, 197). Article 2 called for the parties “to have a watch kept, especially in railways stations, ports of embarkation, and en route, for persons in charge of women and girls destined for an immoral life” (ibid.). This concerted surveillance over traveling female bodies was later incorporated almost verbatim in the questionnaire that the League of Nations circulated in 1921: “4. Has the government taken any steps to have ports and railway stations watched for the purpose of checking the Traffic in Women and Children? If not undertaking this duty to themselves, have they delegated this responsibility, and if so, to what agency?” (League of Nations 1921a, 230). Articles 3 and 4 of the 1904 Agreement, which addressed the matter of the repatriation of “women and girls of foreign nationality who are prostitutes,” were incorporated as question 5: “Has the Government taken steps to ascertain from foreign prostitutes the reasons for which they left their countries? If so, what has been the outcome of this enquiry?” (ibid.). The internationalization of the work of antitrafficking necessitated the move from “white slave traffic” to the more universal rubric of the “traffic in women and children,” but much of the discourse and subsequent work of the League of Nations maintained a hierarchical racial distinction. Question 8 in the 1921 questionnaire explicitly focused on protective measures against “White Slave Traffic.” Several annual government reports also continued to deploy the term. The persistence of the use of the term white slave traffic was not residual but crucial to the fashioning of international consensus in an era marked by both imperialist jockeying and uneven nation formations. In proposing a new International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children at the second meeting of the Assembly of the League in September 1921, the British delegation framed it as “an unprecedented opportunity for the League to demonstrate political will and determination” (Metzger 2007, 60). The 1921 Convention bore a notable exception in its Article 14: “Any Member or State signing the present Convention may declare that the signature does not include any or all of its colonies, overseas possessions, protectorates or territories under its sovereignty or authority, and may subsequently adhere separately on behalf of any such colony, overseas possession, protectorate or territory so excluded in its declaration.” Thus, the very assertion of a new international agreement entailed explicit sanctions of imperial “double standards” imposed onto different women’s bodies.
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