Women’s stories of human trafficking explored in new book
‘Human Trafficking: Women's Stories of Agency’ by Dr Maria De Angelis presents the real-life stories of 25 women who were trafficked into the UK and one British woman with experience of being trafficked out of the UK. The participants originated from 14 different countries and, between them, were trafficked for the purposes of sexual, labour and criminal exploitations and transnational forced marriages – all of which are recognised by the EU Parliamentary Directive (2011) as human trafficking.
Dr De Angelis, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett, explained: “The end of year statistics released by the National Crime Agency state that 2,340 referrals of potential victims of human trafficking were made to the National Referral Mechanism in 2014. This represents a 34% increase on 2013.
“My book critiques the meta-narrative, or big story, of victimhood – that in a global world trafficked women have no ‘agency’, i.e. they are totally controlled by their traffickers, take no decisions or calculated risks regarding their movement, and lack the ability to take / take back control of their lives.
“Understandably, the very idea of agency is a difficult concept to fathom given the unscrupulous acts and exploitative practices which define trafficking. However, with general agreement that contemporary trafficking constitutes a subcategory of global migration, the prevailing story of victimhood opens the floodgates to criminal and immigration sanctions for survivors who display any agency (consent, knowledge or actions) in their movement. My research calls for a relational consideration of victimisation and agency within trafficking, as two concepts that can exist at the same time.”
Examples of this co-existence detailed in Dr De Angelis’s book include Tamara, aged 33 from Ukraine, who paid a colleague to get her a better job. As Tamara relates: “My husband was in prison, leaving me to raise three small children alone, so I took a factory job on the border. The factory was going bust and my workmate told me we could earn a month’s pay for a week’s work here if we went as croupiers to Turkey. So I agreed and paid her 300 euros to arrange our travel. On the day we were to go she was sick, but said her boyfriend would accompany me. I didn’t know him. He could have been anyone, even a trafficker, ha! But I was still a young mother and bored with my life. We badly needed the money and my sister-in-law said she would take care of my children as well as her own. So I went on an adventure… When we crossed the border by car, he handed me over to someone else… At first, I thought it was all a big mistake and that they would let me go. And so it began……”
Having been sold into sex work at the border, Tamara was repeatedly bought and sold before reaching the UK. Once in the UK, Tamara escaped to a police station where she was initially arrested but later released without help because she was mistaken for a migrant sex worker.
Sofia, aged 30 from Moldova, paid an unscrupulous travel agent for false travel and work permits in order to work in the hotel trade and raise money for her mother’s medical bills. The agent sub-contracted to traffickers who demanded payment for her accommodation and food during the long journey. Sofia relates how between leaving home and arriving in the UK, the debt built up. Arriving in debt bondage, she was forced by her traffickers into sauna work to pay off the debt. Following a police raid on the premises, she was arrested and served a 12-month custodial sentence for possession of fraudulent documents before being deported.
The book also presents the stories of 15 anti-trafficking professionals, highlighting how official actions mediate women’s achievement of wellbeing and agency freedoms.
A member of the Criminology team at Leeds Beckett University, Dr Maria De Angelis has been invited to deliver the ninth annual John McKendy Memorial Lecture on Narrative at St Thomas University, Canada in November 2016. Dr De Angelis joins prestigious international speakers in celebrating narrative as a new mainstream in criminology and migration scholarship. Dr De Angelis is currently researching how women with an experience of immigration detention go on to rebuild 'bare' lives stripped of political agency.
‘Human Trafficking: Women's Stories of Agency’ has been published by Cambridge Scholars and colour illustrated by ArtWorks for Freedom (USA). All author royalties from sales will be donated to trafficking and asylum charities.