Trafficked Children and Youth in the United States: Reimagining Survivors
Elzbieta M. Gozdziak
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016, 141 pp.
This book is an important contribution to recent feminist studies critical of the social and political underpinnings of the predominant "anti-trafficking" movement based in the United States. As Gozdziak so carefully details, the "movement" is a coordinated, networked system of politicians and advocacy centres who work to identify and provide rehabilitative services to youth survivors of human trafficking. This network is far from expertly driven, often reactive to the moral panics that dominate policy forums on human trafficking, forced migration, and labour exploitation. Gozdziak indicates that she is not interested in debating the definition of "trafficking" itself but in how it is operationalized: how the label of "child trafficking" may or may not "work" for survivors according to U.S. and international law. Gozdziak complicates the sense that there is any "typical" child victim of trafficking, by interviewing and narrating victims' own contestations of how and when the "trafficked child" label might be applied to them.
Gozdziak treats the subject matter with a delicate yet deft touch. She is clearly aware of the stakes at play--how naming and intervention forged at the bureaucratic level can have profound, irreversible impact on the lived realities of the youth in question. This attention renders Gozdziak's work remarkable: from the outset she foregrounds the complex narratives of youth who have arrived in the United States under less than ideal circumstances. Through fieldwork at anti-trafficking conferences, as well as in-depth qualitative interviews with 140 youth recipients of anti-trafficking services, Gozdziak narrates a portrayal of survivorship outside the prevalent imagery of trafficking survivors as hapless young victims. She notes many of the victims in her study take issue with being labelled children: as minors transported to work in the United States, many of the youth were classified as victims of trafficking despite their insistence to caseworkers that they had chosen to migrate of their own accord.
Gozdziak's citation practices make clear her political stance on this polarizing issue. She joins a small but ardent group of feminist academics (myself included) who draw from critical race studies, post-colonial studies, and critical political economy to call attention...