Constructing ‘indigenous people’ reproducing coloniality’s epistemic violence: a content analysis of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report

Dimou, Eleni; Boukli, Avi and Papanikolaou, Georgios (2024). Constructing ‘indigenous people’ reproducing coloniality’s epistemic violence: a content analysis of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report. In: Faulkner, Elizabeth ed. Modern Slavery in Global Context: Human Rights, Law and Society. Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press, (in press).

Abstract

This chapter interrogates the knowledge production process embedded in global anti- trafficking policy initiatives, as reflected in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report (TIPR). Using the conceptual framework of coloniality, we undertake content analysis of the TIPRs 2001-2020. We show that policy interventions are still central in imposing colonial frameworks of knowledge and interventions globally and locally. Three main findings emerge from the content analysis: firstly, the references to ‘indigenous communities’ and ‘indigenous victims’ have been amplified over time. Specifically, from 2003 onwards there is a gradual but clear trend towards more of these references appearing in each subsequent iteration of the Report. Thus, there is a shift from a state of silence towards both wider visibility and labelling Indigenous victims of trafficking as extremely vulnerable. Secondly, these references portray Indigenous communities and individuals in relation to human trafficking as either ‘at risk’, ‘at high risk’, ‘particularly vulnerable’ or ‘most vulnerable’. While Indigenous victimisation is becoming more visible, in most instances the problem is framed as human traffickers preying on individual victims or on certain communities, rather than recognising how the continuous impact of the colonial matrix of power (i.e. coloniality) permeates Indigenous lives including their victimisation. Thirdly, there is a clear geographical clustering around the regions of Central Africa, Central and South America, and also Southeast Asia, which reflects global imperial hierarchies of power. Based on our findings we argue that the reports are infused with colonial systems of thought, which inflict and reproduce epistemic violence and colonial relations of power locally and internationally.

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