Thursday, November 28, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Canadiana Gallery, 14 Queen's Park Cres., Toronto

The 2019 John LL. J. Edwards Memorial Lecture

 Professor Prabha Kotiswaran
King’s College London

"The Sexual Politics of Anti-Trafficking Discourse"

Thursday, 28 November 2019

5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
Reception to follow

Canadiana Gallery
14 Queen's Park Cres
Attendance is free of charge but registration is required.
Register here

Almost twenty years since the negotiation of the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, anti-trafficking law and discourse continue to be in a state of flux and dynamic evolution. The anti-trafficking field has gone from an early almost exclusive, preoccupation with sex work to addressing exploitation in varied labour sectors, reflected in the mainstreaming of the term ‘modern slavery’. Correspondingly, scholars and activists are going beyond the criminal law to propose alternate forms of regulation as manifest in human rights, labour and development approaches to trafficking. These trends would suggest a reduced focus on the nature of the work performed and a greater focus on the conditions under which it is performed. We could therefore expect that all forms of extreme labour exploitation whether in sex work or fishing or cotton cultivation would attract the equal application of anti-trafficking law. This is sadly not the case as cultures of ‘sex work exceptionalism’ persist and are gaining strength around the world.

In my lecture, I ask why. I interrogate the sexual politics of anti-trafficking discourse by revisiting its contentious history. I examine what the expanded understanding of trafficking has meant for feminist theorising and mobilising on sex work and trafficking and how sex workers’ groups have responded. I explore the terrains on which feminists, sex workers, conservatives and left-progressive movements engage with each other and with the state and which alliances have been brokered successfully and which ones have failed to materialise. Importantly, I question what this has meant for long-term struggles for a politics of redistribution within the sex sector. I conclude by reflecting on how anti-trafficking campaigns play out in postcolonial contexts and what this means for retheorising the sexual politics of anti-trafficking discourse.

See the Event Poster (PDF)