Instructor Insights

Using Non-Traditional Examples to Broaden Students’ Understanding of Human Trafficking

In this section, Mitali Thakor shares how she broadened students’ understanding of human trafficking by exposing them to non-traditional examples, including exploitation in the food processing, modeling, and sports industries. Students also explored different questions that have been raised recently about sexting, and whether it constitutes child pornography or sexual violence.

"When we say the word trafficking, a lot of different images come to mind, but usually beef production and migrant workers are not among them."
— Mitali Thakor

Food Production

In teaching this course, I wanted students to shift their mindset away from thinking that human trafficking involves only sex trafficking and overtly sexualized images; I wanted them to realize that there are other forms of trafficking that are less obvious, but nonetheless ubiquitous.

When we say the word trafficking, a lot of different images come to mind, but usually beef production and migrant workers are not among them. To help broaden students’ understanding of trafficking, we looked at instances of trafficking in the food processing and production industries in the United States. We read articles and watched a music video about strawberry production and migrant labor.

We also watched the documentary film, Food Inc., which exposes human trafficking in the beef industry. In particular, it depicts how owners of a beef processing plant in North Carolina work in cooperation with immigration enforcement to periodically conduct raids of workers’ homes in order to arrest and deport them. It’s about creating a stream of unpaid and fear-driven labor, such that people can be underpaid because they don’t have documentation. This documentary, in combination with our readings and viewings about strawberry production, helped students understand the multiple layers of complexity involved in trafficking.

Modeling, Sports, and Sexting

During our unit on children, we continued to expose non-traditional examples of trafficking. We analyzed the modeling recruitment industry in Eastern Europe, along with the baseball recruitment industry in Latin America. We then moved on to discuss child exploitation and sex work. This led us into a conversation about children’s presence online and different questions that have been raised recently about sexting, and whether it constitutes child pornography or sexual violence. We also discussed the debates around age of consent when it comes to online images and webcam videos.

During this unit on children, we were fortunate to have a guest lecture by, Marie-Laure Lemineur, the director of ECPAT International’s SECO (The Sexual Exploitation of Children Online) program. This guest lecture experience allowed students an opportunity to ask questions about sexting, an issue that is very much a part of their generation’s experience.

A Live and Complex Issue

By using non-traditional examples, I wanted students to understand that human trafficking is more than the overt images people commonly think of when they hear the words “human trafficking,” and to understand just what a live (i.e., not purely academic) and complex issue it is. I wanted to demonstrate, through these non-traditional examples, how contemporary social practices perpetuate exploitation.

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