Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking at the University of Nebraska


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Presented at the Second Annual Conference on Human Trafficking University of Nebraska at Lincoln. October, 2010. Copyright 2010 Caroline S. Wallinger.


Competing representations of human trafficking in the media and within the movement have contributed to a general confusion of public perceptions of human trafficking as a social phenomenon. Various activist and political groups have, over the years, divided, delineated and classified trafficking into a series of categories including sex trafficking, labor trafficking and child exploitation. These categories have become an integral part of the collective understanding of human trafficking and they have played a primary role in the crafting of national and international anti-trafficking legislation.

This paper stems from a master‘s thesis which analyzes the discourse on human trafficking, its understanding (and misunderstanding) within the public sphere, and manifestations of political violence through discursive divisions and fragmentations. The paper focuses specifically upon media representation of human trafficking and applies contemporary agenda-setting theory to a study of media coverage of immigration, prostitution and crime. The paper examines how current representations of trafficking ignore structural factors such as globalization, corporate hegemony and militarization, focusing instead on prostitution and migration and contributing to the marginalization of women, migrants and the global poor.

Conference participants will learn about how media representation affects trafficked persons and why it is important for anti-trafficking activists, service providers and law enforcement agents to take care in how they present the problem in the media.

Powerpoint slides to accompany the paper are attached below as a "Related file."