Addressing HIV/AIDS at the Intersection of Anti-Trafficking and Health Law and Policy

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Book Chapter

Publication Date



Prabha Kotiswaran




Cambridge University Press




Since the inception of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking Protocol), states have been criticized for a narrow focus on eradicating sex-trafficking through criminal law over a more inclusive and redistributive approach such as labor rights. In response to the critique, the last ten years has seen a slow shift in policy and rhetoric broadening the narrow sex-trafficking agenda to include labor trafficking. In health governance, however, sex-trafficking, and the definitional debates surrounding sex-trafficking, play a growing and contested role in transnational and domestic law and policymaking on AIDS. This chapter explores three sites of the ongoing contestation between harm-reduction and abolitionist actors in the context of HIV: international institutions, peer-reviewed data, and litigation. The chapter argues that actors deploy competing frames in these sites in an attempt to seek legitimation of their understanding of what does or does not constitute exploitation for purposes of trafficking. In doing so, advocates of harm-reduction and abolitionism deploy multifaceted strategies to legitimate particular narratives about harm that may serve to justify or undermine the carceral response to sex-trafficking. While each of these sites has its own contours, the arguments offered by harm-reduction and abolitionist activists in each has remarkable similarity. Taken together, we can see how the arguments of harm-reduction or abolitionists are made in divergent spaces with the goal of seeking legitimation through engagement with and output by purportedly neutral institutions, the peer-reviewed literature, and courts. These sites of knowledge production and legitimation by experts then become the basis of governance projects.

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