Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking at the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



Presented at Second Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, October 2, 2010. Copyright © Donna M. Bickford 2010.


The discourses on trafficking circulating in the public sphere help construct public response. Representational strategies in literature offer mechanisms to inform how we think about and wrestle with complex issues. So, as we’re thinking about what we know and what we need to know, it’s important to also think about how we know, and to acknowledge that representations have impact and symbolic power. Although human trafficking encompasses both sex and labor trafficking, in the U.S. we have seen the most attention paid to sex trafficking; no wonder, then, that our cultural products reflect that emphasis. Documentary films on the topic are plentiful, mainstream Hollywood films increasingly so, and survivor narratives are available. Fictional portrayals of sex trafficking, however, have been a more recent development. In the first literary analysis I’ve seen of any of these novels, Ashley Dawson calls this literature “a form of cargo culture, an aesthetics of people who have been turned into illegal but nonetheless highly profitable cargo” (180).