Bodies, voices and credibility: Instability in the construction of the Victim of Trafficking status




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British Sociological Association/University of Nottingham



Peer reviewed



Claims are made at international and at the national level in the UK that policies to tackle human trafficking are based on a human rights approach. Multiple claims are embedded within this claim about the nature and scale of human trafficking, presenting an idealised view of the victim of trafficking as clearly defined. This perspective is contested in front-line encounters as street-level bureaucrats (Lipsky, 1980) are required to evaluate the claims made by concrete individuals to the victim of trafficking status against these idealised images of the victim of trafficking.

Foucault’s (2011) discussion of parresia in his 1983 lecture on the government of the self is relevant in both meanings provided. First, claimants of the victim of trafficking status necessarily make their claim without the freedom to speak and be recognised by the state, which Foucault describes as a political structure. They are strangers amongst the demos of the nation-state against which they make their claim. Second, claimants of the victim of trafficking status must demonstrate they are speaking the truth, in the more social sense described by Foucault, by demonstrating the risks they have taken in their journey, usually with their own body as the warrant of evidence supporting their claim.

This paper considers the impact of street-level bureaucrats exercising their judgement when assessing the credibility of the accounts they receive from putative victims of human trafficking. Utilise a theoretical model for evaluating the credibility of non-governmental organisations (Gourevitch & Lake, 2012), I develop a conceptualisation of ‘victim of trafficking’ as a fluid status that is dependent on individuals required to enact a familiar image of vulnerability and victimhood for street-level bureaucrats.



Human Trafficking, Sociology, Public Policy, Victimology


Tangen, J. (2016) Bodies, voices and credibility: Instability in the construction of the Victim of Trafficking status. delivered to the BSA Early Career Academic Forum Conference ‘Embodied citizenship: Mediating the state through the self’, University of Nottingham: 18 January 2016


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice