Friday, 27 January 2017

Dr Charlotte Beyer's research

My part of our research project examines the representation of transnational child trafficking in crime fiction from Britain, Ireland and Denmark.  The significance of investigating the nuances of these representations, and explore their capacity for contributing to a better public understanding and awareness of child trafficking, is becoming increasingly evident. Although recent work has recognised the particular vulnerability of women and children, the specific area of child trafficking and its representation has thus far received relatively little attention from critics and scholars, or the media.

My research investigates the thematic and textual methods employed in twenty-first century crime fiction to portray transnational trafficking of children and young people. This involves a consideration of how texts incorporate existing and new information about transnational trafficking, how they represent differing kinds of trafficking, and the textual and thematic means by which they lend visibility and voice to the experiences of children who are trafficked. I am drawing on trauma theory, amongst other critical frameworks, to analyse portrayals of violence, violation and exploitation in crime fiction.  My investigation extends the point made by Leanne Dodd that: ‘Crime fiction opens up a space in which to depict more authentic and safe representations of traumatic experience to a willing and receptive audience.’(5) Tensions between representing trauma authentically and crime fiction’s need for suspense and closure suggest that this space may be problematic and have conflicting aims and purposes – this is one of the questions I will investigate in my work.

This research suggests that these separate and distinct areas of crime and exploitation are often interlinked in crime fiction, but also that these crimes are at times portrayed in a reductionist manner. Edith Kinney comments on these problems, stating that: ‘Reductionist narratives of crime and victimisation figure prominently in discourses about trafficking.’(91). These questions have wider implications for the way in which child trafficking and child victims are viewed by the wider public.  This dimension, in turn, invites theoretical interventions through the employment of trauma theory, in order to analyse the fictional experiences and perceptions of child trafficking victims. This analysis will demonstrate the capacity of crime fiction to affect public understanding of child trafficking, through its representations of the victims, their contexts and experiences, and their treatment by criminals and the law.

Works cited

Dodd, Leanne. 2015. “The Crime Novel as Trauma Fiction.”  Minding The Gap: Writing Across Thresholds And Fault Lines Papers – The Refereed Proceedings Of The 19th Conference Of The Australasian Association Of Writing Programs, 2014, Wellington NZ, available at  Accessed 27 January 2017. 

Kinney , Edith. 2014.  Victims, Villains, and Valiant Rescuers: Unpacking Sociolegal Constructions of Human Trafficking and Crimmigration in Popular Culture.  In The Illegal Business of Human Trafficking (Ed.) Guia, Maria Joao, Springer.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ilse Ras reflects on slavery and human trafficking

I used slavery as one of the core search terms for my data collection ( 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves, so as a result of this anniversary and the use of this search term, there is a substantial number of articles in the human trafficking corpus discussing historical slavery, rather than contemporary human trafficking.  One definitional concern, therefore, is whether historical slavery, as in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and, in particular, the exploitation of African people on American plantations, could be considered a form of human trafficking.

It certainly should be, if the principles of the Palermo Protocol are followed – historical slavery entailed the transnational movement of people, using coercion (in particular physical bondage and violence) as well as deception, for the purposes of exploitation at the end point. Furthermore, human trafficking was criminalised in the UK under the Modern Slavery Act. However, historical US slavery and modern human trafficking conjure up very different pictures in people’s minds. For this reason, I attended a few related events organised by the University of Leeds, Leeds Library (, and Heritage Corner ( on the topic of US Slavery. These events formed part of the national Being Human ( festival, which emphasises the use of the Humanities.

These events included a public discussion, hosted by Dr Bridget Bennett, and featuring, among others, a talk/performance by poet Rommi Smith; a play entitled Meet the Crafts, written and performed by Joe Williams of Heritage Corner, together with Martelle Edinborough, and a guided walk led by Joe Williams.  I am aware that I will have gone into this event with significant confirmation bias, in that I wanted to consider US slavery as a form of human trafficking. Nevertheless, there are many characteristics beyond the obvious three characteristics that qualify slavery as trafficking following the Palermo Protocol.

One thing that struck me throughout were not the expected similarities between historical and modern slavery, but the unexpected similarities between the discourses.
After Britain abolished the slave trade in the Empire, and forbade slavery in the West Indies / then-British Caribbean islands and archipelagos, it appeared, going by what I learned at these events, to have taken on a rather paternalistic, morally superior role, lecturing other nations about the slave trade and slavery, with little reference to Britain’s own substantial role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery, and with little exploration of how the contemporary British economy had grown, and actually still largely depended, on slavery. For instance, as examined in a bit more detail in David Olusoga’s documentary series on iPlayer (, the Northern English cloth industry heavily relied on cotton picked by slaves in the American south.

This is rather similar to how the US’s self-assumed role in current anti-trafficking discourse is described in the academic literature. The US, too, has taken on an internationally morally superior role, paternalistically teaching other nations, through the tool of the TVPA, how to respond to trafficking in a manner deemed acceptable by the US. However, within US official anti-trafficking discourse, there is little reference to how the US perpetuates trafficking and indeed exacerbates the vulnerabilities of migrants through harsh migration policies, thereby allowing these people to be vulnerable to exploitation. In contemporary anti-trafficking discourse, there is also very little examination of how the consumption of the West, and its demand for cheap goods and services, actually depends on a relatively steady stream of vulnerable, exploitable labourers. Indeed, when Olusoga visits a tobacco plantation in his documentary series to show how labour intensive tobacco farming actually is, we see non-white labourers picking tobacco. Olusoga does not examine the labour conditions of these modern labourers, and indeed it is possible that these labourers are American citizens of non-white background and are not exploited, but the fact nevertheless remains that academic literature on human trafficking shows that many labour-intensive industries such as agriculture do rely on a precarious, exploitable, labour force, much like labour-intensive agriculture in the American south, such as cotton and tobacco, in the time of slavery, depended on slave labour.

Furthermore, as Joe pointed out during the Guided Walk, during the British colonial period, Britain destroyed many overseas industries to ensure there was limited supply of the goods made in Britain, in the sense that British goods would not have to compete with goods made in overseas territories. This will have set local economies back, and will have contributed to the global economic inequality that is a structural factor in modern human trafficking.  Another thing that struck me is the consistent praise for Britain in former slave narratives, as if narratives which did not praise Britain were silenced, at least in Britain. Indeed, many white, middle class abolitionists took it upon themselves to speak on behalf of those enslaved in the United States, rather than allowing survivors their own voice. Rommi Smith points out just how many stories, histories, were lost in this era. Quite similarly, nowadays trafficking survivor narratives must take on a very specific form too in order for those trafficked to be recognised as victims. Other narratives are suppressed. Many anti-trafficking activists take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of those trafficked.  Abolitionists profited from taking up the abolitionist position, both politically and socially. Similarly, those actively campaigning against human trafficking profit politically, socially, and in some cases monetarily, through what Cojocaru (2016) calls ‘secondary exploitation’.  Abolitionist discourse, at least in some instances, framed slavery as a violation of inalienable, human, rights. Anti-trafficking discourse, too, in its early stages, framed trafficking as a violation of human rights.

Finally, perhaps most powerfully, is the use of divisive tactics by those opposed to the abolition of slavery and those opposed to non-criminalising responses to labour migration.
Olusoga points out this use of divisive tactics. Those opposed to abolition of slavery pointed to local, English, labourers and said “but what about the working conditions of the English? Why focus on conditions abroad when things are not all well here?”. Indeed, as mentioned in the Public Discussion, many abolitionists were also owners of English factories and will therefore have been, at least, complicit in the exploitation of English labourers in this era. This divisive tactic was most recent used, in unaltered form, by Brexit campaigners to advocate against labour migration from, in particular, Eastern Europe, and by Trump campaigners to advocate against labour migration from Central American nations.
In short, human trafficking is inextricably linked to historical slavery – in fact, historical slavery simply is a historical form of human trafficking. This is not just evidenced by the historical facts of slavery, but also evidenced by the similarities in historical discourses on slavery and contemporary discourses on trafficking.


Cojocaru, C. 2016. My Experience is Mine to Tell: Challenging the abolitionist victimhood framework. Anti-Trafficking Review (7), pp.12-38.

Ras, I.A. 2016. Ilse Ras reports on her research on British newspapers. 11 November. Representation of transnational human trafficking. [Online]. [Accessed 28 November 2016]. Available from:

Monday, 5 December 2016

Dr Nina MuĹždeka explains what she will examine in her research

As a complex issue, transnational human trafficking invites  debate facilitated by the role of media as both a contemporary watchdog and a modern forum for showcasing diverse viewpoints. In the analysis of the transnational human trafficking coverage in the news media within the domain of narrative theory and the theoretical framework of poststructuralism, the following two aspects appear to be crucial:

(1)  The role of news media, as a forum for expressing different opinions in relation to the causes and solutions to human trafficking, in the construction of public opinion and response to the issue, as well as in the formation and implementation of policy on human trafficking, exemplified by the choices they make in reporting on the issue, and

(2)  The application of the contemporary narrative theory to the analysis of news media texts as means to construct meaning and reality, which details and explains the importance of the process of story-telling and the structural elements of the narrative (such as plot, voice, point of view) as semiotic factors.

The primary source of my part of the research will include ‘hard news’ stories in English and in Serbian - that is, the texts that merely reproduce the facts and figures, pieces of investigative journalism that provide insight or the analysis on the topic, and other examples of journalistic writing, such as features, commentaries, or opinion texts, with the aim to show the role of genre in the analysis of news media texts as narratives. Though not the primary aim of the research, this aspect of the analysis will undoubtedly illustrate the economic factors that direct the present-day journalism towards pure fact reports and away from investigative journalism as a not so cost-efficient genre. Even so, the analysis of the choices made by the media in selecting those facts points to the focus they selected in presenting the issue of transnational human trafficking (e.g. victims, suffering, trafficking routes). Furthermore, the hypothesis of this aspect of research is that news media texts as narratives structure our perception of reality. Through choosing particular narrative strategies, the news media through the process of signification construct meaning and create the taste and preferences of the general audience. In other words, “the stories that seem the most ‘natural’ are the ones to which the media have accustomed us” (Fulton 1).

This stage of the research will also show the dependency of the number of news reports on the significant events, such as court proceedings, arrests or government policy announcements, with the expected conclusion that more focus is placed on the one-sided, ‘official’ point of view at the expense of including alternative views and additional information, such as those pertaining to the social and economic roots of the problem. In this respect, the research will test the claim that, as “an autonomous sphere of social influence, which reports the facts honestly and even-handedly to raise the consciousness of the audience and act as a force for social good” (Stockwell), news media are placing emphasis on objectivity. The impact of the research, in this respect, is to raise awareness, in the domain of general audience, of the necessity to include alternative points of view in news media coverage of transnational human trafficking, including perspectives provided by activists and academics, instead of entirely relying on government sources and other official, establishment-related viewpoints.


1.       Fulton, Helen. 2005. “Introduction: The Power of Narrative”. In Helen Fulton, Rosemary Huisman, Julian Murphet, Anne Dunn (eds.) Narrative and Media. 1-8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2.       Stockwell, Stephen. 1999. ‘Beyond the Fourth Estate: Democracy, Deliberation and Journalism Theory’. 21(1). 
Australian Journalism Review 38

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Dr Melissa Dearey's research

My part in this project is to conduct more intensely case-study based qualitative textual analysis of a small number of key texts in the non-fictional or ‘true crime’ genre. The main focus will be on popular documentary televisual representations of human trafficking in the UK today. The primary source I will be analysing is the narrative construction of present day human trafficking in the UK in the recent Al Jazeera produced documentary Britain’s Modern Slave Trade – Al Jazeera Investigates (2016). These narratives will be compared and contrasted to others presented in contemporary popular audio-visual representations of human trafficking in the true crime format and how these shape and influence, and are shaped and influenced by, popular epistemologies and mythologies of human trafficking. In this context, I will also be exploring the development and evolution in the ‘true crime’ genre in the context of present day representations of human trafficking.

The main themes I will focus on in this and other texts are the various ‘absences’, that is to say what usually gets ignored, taken for granted, or otherwise alluded to as if it was already fully understood because it’s ‘obvious’—what ‘everybody knows’. From a social science perspective, these sorts of common sense notions ignite what C. Wright Mills [1959] (1999) famously called ‘the sociological imagination’ and more recently what Jock Young (2011) has interpreted more provocatively as ‘the criminological imagination’. This approach takes criminological research into more interdisciplinary, critical and interpretive ‘cultural’ modes of analysis, adopting perspectives and theories that are less allied to the conventional policy orientation of positivist and empirical research, instead linking the micro-ethnographies of the private lives of individuals with the broad macro scope of history to get a more nuanced understanding of the criminogenesis of human trafficking.

Much of the narrative focus in human trafficking texts is victim-oriented, and that is largely understandable, given the scale and degree of trauma and harm caused to them. But the delineation of the roles of victim/perpetrator in human trafficking as in many other types of crime while often obvious at first sight, is at the same time extremely complex when viewed in more depth. Hence the roles of the ‘traffickers’ in the true crime genre in terms of who they are and why they commit their crimes is generally less well represented, glossed over entirely, or reified under the labels of evil or villainy. Similarly, the demand for the services of the victims of human trafficking tends not to be focused upon in popular narrative accounts, often left out altogether. But nevertheless the question remains, who fuels the trade in human beings by purchasing them or their services? What are the biographies of these actors, how are they represented in present day narratives of human trafficking, and what does this tell us about this form of crime and victimization at the micro level and also within the broader history of the modern slave trade?

Al Jazeera (2016) Britain’s Modern Slave Trade – Al Jazeera Investigates. [accessed 29/11/2016].

Boyle, Sheron (1995) Working Girls and Their Men: the sexual secrets of the women who sell their bodies and the men who pay them’. London: Smith Gryphon Limited. 
Earle, Sarah and Sharp, Keith (2007) Sex in Cyberspace: Men who pay for sex. Aldershot: Ashgate. 

Malarek, Victor (2009, 2011) The Johns: sex for sale and the men who buy it. New York: Arcade Publishing. 

Mills, C. Wright [1959] (1999) The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

WISE (2015, 2016) Stolen Lives [DVD]. Wilberforce Institute: University of Hull.

Young, Jock (2011) The Criminological Imagination. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Principal Investigator Dr Christiana Gregoriou on her research

As principal investigator of the project, I am analysing English print media-specific human trafficking representation. The analysis is critical discourse analytic and qualitative. For this part of the project, a sample corpus needed to be extracted from the large English language media text corpus (of around 80,000 texts) Ilse Ras’s research method generated ( We looked at graph spikes where large numbers of these human trafficking-related texts were generated; from the 2000-2016 period, the sample corpus texts were hence limited to the periods of April 2001, March 2007, November 2013, Summer 2015 and May 2016. Employing Laurence Anthony’s ProtAnt software so as to trace prototypical corpus texts within these spikes enabled the generation of a sample corpus of a manageable set of 67 news texts of various length and spike-distribution.

The literature review around human trafficking representation highlighted themes surrounding the victims and traffickers being aged and gendered, there being an overrepresentation of sex trafficking, matters of victim criminalisation and secondary victimisation, the difficulty in distinguishing trafficking from smuggling, and the importance of risk factors and vested interests, among others. In response, research questions guiding the critical discourse analysis of the sample corpus include, but are not limited to:
  • Are smuggling and trafficking conflated?
  • What type of exploitation is highlighted?
  • How are the victims and traffickers portrayed? and
  • Who has agency?

To shed light on underlying ideologies relating to agency, responsibility, and vulnerability, I am in the process of exploring these media texts’ metaphor use, the naming and describing of human trafficking, its victims and traffickers, the texts’ transitivity and modality, and these texts’ reporting of speech and thought.

In a ‘Death van man jailed’ Daily Star (April 2001) article (notice the rhyme!), for instance, suffocated human trafficking/smuggling victims are referred to by means of their large number (first numbered at ‘58’, but then interestingly rounded up to ‘60’), illegal immigrant status (these are ‘illegal’ and ‘immigrants’), as transporting goods with worth (‘human cargo’ valued at £1.2 million), and by their nationality (‘Chinese’). The writer offers no indication of whether these individuals were smuggled or trafficked, what for, what the valuing of them is based on, and who exactly was behind this million-pound operation. Instead, the carrier’s sentencing – not for trafficking/smuggling, but for his inadvertent suffocating of them to death in his van – is focused on; evaluatively, he is described as ‘evil’ for letting them die, having lunch and watching films on a long ferry-crossing rather than ensuring their health and safety. Like the victims, he is referred to by nationality (‘Dutchman’). In contrast to the victims though, he is also named and hence gendered (‘Perry Wacker’- an atypical/uncommon Dutch name in fact!), referred to by age (’33-year-old’), and described by means of the vehicle (‘van’) he used to transfer them with and his capacity in doing so (‘lorry driver’). 

It is the grouping and investigating of such linguistic mechanisms in the context in which these are used that might shed light on the ways in which trafficking is represented by the press. Stay tuned for more!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Ilse Ras reports on her research on British newspapers

My role in the project is to collect and analyse a corpus of British newspaper articles, published between 2000 and 2016, on the topic of human trafficking.
A corpus is nothing more than a collection of texts, and corpus linguistics is the field that uses corpora (the plural of corpus) to draw conclusions about language use.

Collecting corpora is not always a straightforward endeavour, in particular when the topic under investigation is sometimes misunderstood by the public, the media, and even legislators. For instance, human trafficking may also be known as ‘modern slavery’, and may encompass such crimes such as organ harvesting, forced labour, and domestic servitude. Furthermore, there is an ongoing debate about whether sex work should always be considered a form of exploitation and trafficking. Finally, it may not always be clear whether someone has been trafficked (i.e. moved using coercion or deception for the purposes of exploitation), or smuggled (i.e. voluntarily but irregularly moved across borders), in particular as those who volunteer, or more accurately pay, to be smuggled across borders are also often deceived and exploited, both along the way and at the end point.

I used the Lexis Nexis database, mainly for practical reasons: it has a great number of British newspaper articles, I’ve used it before, and its output is compatible with a special Python script that Chris Norton (University of Leeds) wrote for me a few years ago, that separates articles and organises them in a useful folder structure.

One way of collecting articles is to go into Lexis Nexis, input some very broad but relevant search terms, and manually select all articles that actually discuss the topic under investigation. This is what I did for my PhD research. However, this is an extremely time-consuming method, as it requires wading through several millions of articles in order to select maybe 50 – 90 thousand.
I only have three months in which to complete my part of the project, and it would be a waste of time to spend all three months just collecting data.
But that’s not necessary. Gabrielatos, then at the University of Lancaster, published a paper in 2007 outlining the data collection method used to create a corpus for the RASIM-project (more information here: Gabrielatos’ (2007) method entails collecting a sample corpus using two ‘core’ search terms; generating a list of possible additional search terms from this sample corpus; testing these possible additional search terms, and then using those that pass the test (as well as the core search terms) to collect the full corpus. It’s a far less time-consuming method, and although there is a slightly increased risk of collecting articles that aren’t strictly relevant, it is also more systematic and therefore replicable than just manually collecting articles.

So that’s what I did. I first created three sample corpora:
1.       One at the start of the period (1/1/00-30/9/00)
2.       One at the end of the period (1/1/16-30/9/16)
3.       One in the middle of the period (1/1/08-30/9/08)
I used a handful of core search terms, rather than two. These included ‘slavery’, ‘forced labour’, ‘sexual exploitation’, and ‘human trafficking’.

Of these search terms, ‘slavery’ produced the highest number of articles that did not also mention any of the other search terms, presumably because historical slavery is often still considered a different thing than modern slavery (which is in itself worthy of examination). As such, this search term is the threshold against which all other potential search terms are tested.

I used these three sample corpora to create key word lists. A key word list shows which words are used much more often in the sample corpus compared to another, reference, corpus. Rank 60 is the cut-off point for selecting additional search terms from these key word lists, so only the top 60 words of every list were tested against the threshold set by ‘slavery’. I also asked my co-investigators to send me lists of words that they thought could be useful search terms, and tested those, too.

Eventually, I used the core search terms, and the additional search terms that passed the threshold test, and collected the full corpus, which currently consists of slightly over 80 thousand articles.  Chris’s Python script initially only recognised articles published by seven of the major British newspapers – which is what it was originally intended to do. So I adapted it to recognise the other news sources that we wanted to include in this project.

The next step is to actually conduct analyses of this corpus, and I will be back to update you on that in December.
-          Ilse Ras

Gabrielatos, C. 2007. Selecting query terms to build a specialised corpus from a restricted-access database. ICAME Journal 31, pp.5-43 (available here:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Anti-Slavery Day

Today is Anti-Slavery Day, which falls on 18 October in the United Kingdom. Modern slavery is closely linked to human trafficking and transnational organised crime. Slavery is one of the topics we investigate on our research project, as part of examining representations of human trafficking and slavery in representations from media, true crime and crime fiction. 

Anti-Slavery Day was created to raise greater awareness of the crime of modern slavery, and to urge government, business and individuals to eliminate it. 

(image from

The horrors of modern slavery are put under spotlight at Migrant Help UK exhibitionThe exhibition will be on show at London’s Victoria Station on Monday 17 October. It will move to Bristol Temple Meads station on Anti-Slavery Day, Tuesday (18); Birmingham New Street station on Wednesday (19); Liverpool Lime Street station on Thursday (20) and Edinburgh Waverley station on Friday (21).  

Migrant Help UK state that:  “An estimated 13,000 people are being held captive in modern slavery in the UK [...] These people are coerced into forced or bonded labour, domestic servitude, prostitution, forced marriages and even child slavery. They are imprisoned, beaten, violated, threatened, blackmailed and denied their basic human rights on a daily basis.” (Migrant Help UK website)

The GLA (Gangmasters Licensing Authority)  is a UK Government agency that works in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers.  Read about how to spot the signs of modern slavery in the definitive guide from GLA here

Our research project explores representations of transnational human trafficking, including slavery.  The media and news bulletins depict these crimes every day, and there is an increasing awareness in politicians and the wider population of these crimes.  We examine how that awareness is shaped by depictions in the media and in fiction and true crime, thereby contributing to public debates around these matters.