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Title: The Cost of Dreaming; Identifying the Underlying Social and Cultural Structures which Push/Pull Victims into Human Traffic and Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Central America
Author(s): Warden, Tara S
Supervisor(s): Punch, Samantha
Hamilton-Smith, Niall
Keywords: Human Traffic
Sex Work
Central America
Comercial Sexual Exploitation
Social Exclusion
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: University of Stirling
Citation: Warden, T., 2013. Feet of Clay, Confonting Emotional Challenges in Ethnographic Research. Journal of Organisational Ethnography, 2(2).
Malloch, M., Warden, T. & Hamilton-Smith, N., 2012. Care And Support for Adult Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings: A Review, Stirling: Scottish Government Social Research.
Abstract: This investigation explores the international perspectives of causality of human traffic, specifically, traffic into commercial sexual exploitation. Current Western approaches to combat trafficking centre around law and order, immigration issues, and victim protection programs. While these are important for a holistic effort to deter traffic, these foci overlook prevention endeavors, thereby acting as a band-aid on a bullet wound, addressing the symptoms, but not the foundation of trafficking. Western perspectives toward prevention concentrate on economic aspects of supply and demand while crediting the root cause to be poverty. Using social exclusion theory, this thesis demonstrates that the current paradigm of viewing human trafficking in purely economic terms is an oversimplification. This project proposes to widen the focus of prevention efforts those cultural and social structures which push and pull victims into trafficking. The research is a response to an international call for further initiatives to prevent human trafficking, the recent rise of human traffic in Guatemala, Central America and the lack of research which focuses on the social links with trafficking and mainstream society. Research conducted in Guatemala, included a thirteen-month ethnography and involved one-hundred and thirteen qualitative interviews conducted in nine Guatemalan cities strategically located along trafficking routes. The target research population included women sex workers and former traffic victims from Central America and included insights from non-governmental organizations workers. Twenty-three interviewees were Central American migrants which provided insight in the wider regional structures of traffic and commercial sexual exploitation. The interviews aimed at understanding the lived experiences of exploitation in order to determine whether social exclusion affects human traffic within commercial sexual exploitation. The findings revealed the underlying social and cultural structures which reinforce human trafficking. Empirical data collected provides real-time data on trafficking networks, commercial sexual exploitation and reveals the geo-political significance of Guatemala as a hot-spot for traffic. Analysis of interviews illustrates variations in the experience of human traffic and commercial sexual exploitation which challenges current western stereotypical ideas on traffic victims. Conceptually, macro-structures—political, economic, social, and violence—are presented as a back drop for the formation of wider networks of exploitation. The exploration of violence as a push factor challenges international forced repatriation policies. Micro-structures—gender roles, family, violence, and coping strategies—are examined in the ways they perpetuate social systems of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Theoretically, the thesis argues against the current paradigm which narrowly focuses on economics, but calls for the incorporation of social exclusion theory to understand the multi-dimensionality of human traffic and its wider links to society in order to open up new dialogue for prevention between the West and the majority world.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Applied Social Science

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