Working Paper

Masculinity and the 'Ideal Victim' in the US Trafficking Discourse

Published 17 June 2015 / By Saskia Blume

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Male adult victims have been notably absent from the discourse around human trafficking at a global scale. This paper argues that inherent to the trafficking discourse is the figure of the feminine 'ideal victim'. It begins by uncovering the gender essentialisms which permeate the trafficking discourse, and which leave little room for men (or women) who do not conform to the feminine underpinnings of the passive, irrational, innocent, 'ideal victim' and do no conform to the  ‘victim of trafficking’ frame. The paper approaches 'human trafficking' as a Foucauldian (1972, 1977) discourse, with the help of frame analysis based on Goffman (1974) and extended by both Snow et al. (1986) and Snow and Benford (1988, 2000).

The US has held a central position in influencing this global discourse, notably through the annual US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. An analysis of the US TIP reports published between 2001 and 2011 reveals a changing understanding of victimhood in trafficking with an increasing focus on labour exploitation. Within these reports men as victims of trafficking become more visible, although they remain constrained within racialised and subordinate forms of masculinity. The paper concludes that discourse around trafficking remains too narrow to meaningfully address exploitation, as the focus continues to be placed on individual victims and perpetrators rather than on the role of the state.

Key Words

Human Trafficking, Trafficking in Persons, Gender, Masculinity, Discourse, US Trafficking in Persons Report


Saskia Blume, University of Oxford MSc Migration Studies Graduate 2012. Email:


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