‘Sex Trafficking’ as Epistemic Violence


  • Ben Chapman-Schmidt




human trafficking, sex work, human rights, law enforcement, governmentality, postcolonial theory


While the American Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA) has been heavily criticised by researchers and activists for the harm it inflicts on sex workers, many of these critics nevertheless agree with the Act’s goal of fighting sex trafficking online. This paper, however, argues that in American legal discourse, ‘sex trafficking’ refers not to human trafficking for sexual exploitation, but rather to all forms of sex work. As such, the law’s punitive treatment of sex workers needs to be understood as the law’s purpose, rather than an unfortunate side effect. This paper also demonstrates how the discourse of ‘sex trafficking’ is itself a form of epistemic violence that silences sex workers and leaves them vulnerable to abuse, with FOSTA serving to broaden the scope of this violence. The paper concludes by highlighting ways journalists and academic researchers can avoid becoming complicit in this violence.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Ben Chapman-Schmidt

Ben Chapman-Schmidt is a recent PhD graduate of the Australian National University’s College of Arts and Social Sciences’ School of Sociology. His dissertation focusses on transnational human trafficking governance, using Japan’s response to human trafficking as a case study. He was a visiting research fellow at Keio University, where he conducted research on human trafficking, sex work, and migrant exploitation with police, NGOs and government officials across Japan. He recently co-authored a major report on cyber-terrorism for the Korean Institute of Criminology, and is currently working on his first book, as well as looking into further research opportunities on human trafficking governance in East Asia. Email: ben.chapman-schmidt@anu.edu.au




How to Cite

Chapman-Schmidt, B. (2019). ‘Sex Trafficking’ as Epistemic Violence. Anti-Trafficking Review, (12), 172–187. https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.2012191211