A Critique of Sex Trafficking Discourse: The Russian Federation and the Czech Republic

By Eric Damiana


Human trafficking is a criminal industry that ranks third in the world in terms of profit, behind drug trafficking and the criminal arms trade. The focus of my research is on the fourth wave of sex trafficking, which is the latest “wave” coming out of Russia and eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. This research focuses specifically at the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic today. I will analyze the discourses surrounding human trafficking in these two countries and examine how they reflect and affect the situation on the ground, policy maneuvers by various political actors, public opinion, and how all of these aspects are interconnected. I contend that the hegemonic discourses in both the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic minimize the problem of human trafficking, and muddle it to the point where efforts by the state to address the issue are either nonexistent or cosmetic at best.

Both of these countries have fairly recently exited Communism, and this was the most basic catalyst for the explosion in sex trafficking out of this region. Russia in particular is at the center of this debate (if there even is a debate), as according to some statistics the country ranks number one in global sex trafficking. Russia's violent transition to capitalism also plays a large role in this issue, and could almost be considered a “model” for the circumstances of the fourth wave. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, offers an alternate model. Of all the Warsaw Pact states, the Czech Republic weathered the post-Soviet transitions well, and has emerged from the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, even when compared with some Western European states. Put simply, the Czech Republic does not face most of the problems that Russia has faced and is facing now. Despite this, human trafficking is a massive problem in this country. Like Russia, the Czech Republic is a source, destination, and transit country, and the efforts to combat this problem are minimal. As it is a member state of the European Union, the Czech Republic is required to make some efforts to combat the problem, and it does so mostly in written law regulating prostitution. In fact, the pressure from the EU to conform to certain standards and maintain a certain reputation is also another factor in the dominant discourse of this country.

A large portion of the presentation will illustrate the situation as it stands in both of these countries, as well as historical genealogies with respect to prostitution and attitudes towards women and sex. This part will cover the multitude of factors that directly contribute to the existence of human trafficking in these countries, as contended by scholars in the field. This part of the presentation will look at social, political, and economic circumstances, as well as geography. In addition, I plan to explore other circumstances that contribute to trafficking, such as levels of government complicity and social attitudes towards women and prostitution.

Following the background, I will outline the theoretical framework that is going to hold the research together. I plan to analyze the discourses I find through a synthesis of Bourdieu and Foucault. More specifically, I am using Bourdieu's organization of different social groups in order to detangle Foucauldian power networks. I will use this framework to organize, to analyze, and to explain discourses produced by the actors involved. Some of the main questions I will ask are the following: What are the power relations between traffickers, trafficked victims, consumers, high and low political spheres, and community/society? What do these actor-groups have to gain or lose by reinforcing hegemonic discourse and power structures? This presentation will be an attempt to see what causes trafficking to survive and to thrive, what hinders efforts at stymieing it, and to detangle the relations between migration, prostitution and trafficking, which are all too often conflated.



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