Law professor debunks human trafficking myths

By Katie Vloet
U-M Law

In the movie “Taken,” a young woman is captured by a gang of human traffickers. The victim is white, blonde, pretty, wealthy, and, though she’s made some bad decisions in her life, she is portrayed as being relatively guilt-free.

Professor Bridgette Carr hates the movie “Taken.”

“There is a myth of the perfect victim,” Carr, ’02, the director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at Michigan Law, said during a talk Oct. 21. “People expect my clients to be perfect, and it just doesn’t work that way.”

Some of her clients have performed unlawful acts, often at the command of their traffickers; none are wealthy; many are from foreign countries. “This myth of the perfect victim has real implications for how our clients are treated by law enforcement and service providers,” Carr said during the talk, which was sponsored by the Christian Legal Society at Michigan Law.

Carr also struck down other myths about human trafficking, including the mistaken idea that it solely involves sex trafficking. “Human trafficking is compelled service, whether it’s sex trafficking or labor trafficking,” she said, noting that the clinic’s clients worked in a variety of industries, such as hair braiding, salons, carnivals, and domestic work.

Traffickers don’t always use force to control their victims, she said. “Unlike what the movies tell us, someone doesn’t have to be chained to a radiator to be a victim of trafficking,” Carr said. Fraud or coercion can be used by a trafficker to establish his or her dominance over the victim, she said.

Carr spoke about some of the battles the clinic’s clients face, such as sex workers who are actually victims but are treated as criminals. One client was pimped by her trafficker; after her last arrest for prostitution, her pimp beat her so badly that she sought help, and eventually was connected with the Human Trafficking Clinic. The pimp was selling other women as well, and federal investigators took up the case. Meanwhile, the woman was still facing criminal charges for prostitution.

“For the same act on the same night, you can be a victim in a federal case and a criminal in your local jurisdiction,” Carr said. The federal case fell apart; the client continues her now-six-year fight to have a case made against her former pimp.

Carr took aim at the spas that advertise along I-94 in Michigan with billboards that make it clear that the women performing services are “exotic”— in other words: don’t worry, people driving down the interstate; these aren’t your daughters. The late-night hours listed on the signs, as well as the reminder that truck parking is available, convey that these are not establishments where bridal parties can go for a couple of coats of pale pink nail lacquer.

“Have any of you ever gotten a manicure after 10 p.m.? No,” Carr pointed out. “Have you ever sat next to a long-haul truck driver when you were getting a manicure? No.”



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