A Feminist Approach to Examining the Role of Female Perpetrators in the Field of Human Trafficking

Female perpetrators consist of women pimps, madams, managers, handlers, head-girls, and mamasans (a Japanese term) who were most likely former prostitutes and/or human trafficking victims themselves who stepped up into managerial roles alongside their male pimp to earn money. Male perpetrators are the norm in society, while “female pimps” are unacknowledged and continue to perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking and the violence involved with that. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes states that, “in 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking is the norm.” Furthermore, they are part of the culminated result of the demand for human trafficking.

The purpose of my project is to fill in the gap of research literature that does not address female perpetrators of human trafficking. Anti-trafficking advocates focus mostly on male perpetrators, but that is a problematic assumption that does not convey an accurate view of the problem. Analyzing human trafficking from a female perpetrator perspective may provide information that might help countries understand how and why human trafficking prospers, especially since the steps for females to become perpetrators are cyclical in that most were former victims of abuse and domestic violence. Threats, force, fraud, and coercion – the same tactics used to recruit these women – were applied by pimps to have them become perpetrators.

The goal of my project is to create a qualitative research model on feminist approaches on female perpetrators of human trafficking, and then create a theoretical framework on how female perpetrators should be studied and examined in their activities and motivations. I will do this by drawing upon various literature that explores the role of women as perpetrators, and to further question if they are really perpetrators – one could argue that the process of a female victim becoming a perpetrator is a sign of agency, or that she is the victim of gender-based, capitalistic conditions. It will be interesting to deconstruct the gender bias involved in analyzing human trafficking from the perpetrator’s perspective. Looking at human trafficking from a perpetrator perspective calls for looking at it without gender bias and to keep an open mind to various circumstances.

One of the methods I will use to draw upon existing literature on female perpetrators of human trafficking and critically examine what has been said or not said. I hope to identify reasons to why female perpetrators of human trafficking are not included in research on human trafficking. To gain an enhanced understanding of perpetrators to offer appropriate support to victims and survivors. By the end of this project’s timeline, I hope to have written a paper describing the cumulative research done for this project.