International Law Human Trafficking
John Winterdyk, Julie Kaye
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0057


Along with drug trafficking and arms dealing, human trafficking has been described as one of the most profitable crimes in the world. A 2003 address to the United Nations by US President George W. Bush demonstrates the substantial attention garnered by human trafficking in international politics. In his speech, Bush said: “There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.” As this statement suggests, the issue of human trafficking has been cast alongside the proverbial “war” against terrorism, narcotics, and human smuggling. Furthermore, in recent years, the issue of human trafficking has become a major focal point for international and national policy concerns, and for a growing number of special interest groups and organizations. Yet the high standing of human trafficking has also made it vulnerable to a variety of political agendas. Although the practice of human trafficking has a long history, it has only been since the enactment of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (part of the Palermo Protocols) in 2000 that a concerted effort has been made to examine and evaluate interventions to counter human trafficking. While it has been widely acknowledged as a crime that challenges fundamental human rights, the issue of human trafficking remains mired in a number of pragmatic legal, social, and political challenges.

Textbooks and Journal Issues

Human trafficking is the subject of much research, debate, and advocacy in diverse disciplines and fields, such as law, sociology, human rights, criminology, politics, migration studies, gender, and public health. A number of books, academic and nonfiction, on human trafficking are available, as well as a growing number of special journal issues that have been dedicated to the issue. In fact, more than sixty English-language books on human trafficking have been published, ranging from personal accounts of trafficking victims to examinations of the intricacies of trafficking in persons. Works such as Bales and Soodalter 2009 argue that human trafficking is virtually omnipresent but remains hidden from the public eye. This book offers a number of American-based examples that highlight how difficult it can be to detect victims of trafficking, who are sometimes hidden in plain sight (as in a case of dishwashers in a local restaurant). But through the wide range of accounts from victims, traffickers, and various experts, the authors offers a number of suggestions for how people can become aware of these cases, and what they can do to help prevent the continued exploitation of trafficked persons. In addition, Brysk and Choi-Fitzpatrick 2011 examines human trafficking primarily from an American perspective, using a predominantly legalistic and human rights approach. Similarly, Scarpa 2008 offers a nuanced human rights and legal examination of human trafficking within a European context. Winterdyk, et al. 2012 is an edited textbook that addresses a broad range of issues that relate to trafficking in persons in an international context. Meanwhile, one of the few books to focus on male trafficking is Nikolić-Ristanović 2009, based on the work of the author and her team of researchers from the Victimology Society of Serbia. Finally, van Dyne and Spencer 2011 is an edited text that includes a host of articles that embrace a critical approach and tend to view human trafficking as an enduring type of economic crime where the “human body” is interpreted as being a commodified product that is used for trade and/or collateral. See also Doezema 2010 and Heil and Nichols 2017.

  • Bales, Kevin, and Ron Soodalter. The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

    This is predominately an awareness-raising book that approaches human trafficking as a “modern day” form of slavery. The target audience is the general public, and the aim is raising awareness of the issue and motivating commitment to implement the laws on human trafficking, particularly in the United States.

  • Brysk, Alison, and Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, eds. From Human Trafficking to Human Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

    Rather than offering descriptive overviews of human trafficking, the contributors to this volume shift their focus to viewing the problem as a human rights and social justice dilemma. The breadth of themes covered include examining human trafficking as a larger structural issue relating to the global economy, foreign policies, human security, migration, labor, and gender relations.

  • Doezema, Jo. Sex Slaves and Discourse Masters: The Construction of Trafficking. London: Zed, 2010.

    This book, appropriate for graduate-level training and scholars of human trafficking, provides a critical, historical examination of the role of “myth” and ideology in the construction of the issue of human trafficking, including an examination of how the “ghost” of white slavery shaped the UN Protocol definition.

  • Heil, Erin C., and Andrea J. Nichols. Broadening the Scope of Human Trafficking Research: A Reader. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2017.

    This edited collection includes thirteen contributions that focus on different forms of human trafficking, reflecting the diversity and complexity of the problem. Attention is given to runaway and homeless youth, members of the LGBTQ community, and those engaged in pickpocketing and begging, among other issues. In addition, the book includes interviews with human traffickers and considers the impact of John schools (Johns) on the demand for prostitution.

  • Nikolić-Ristanović, Vesna, ed. Male Trafficking in Serbia. Belgrade, Serbia: Victimology Society of Serbia, 2009.

    Grounded in a victimological framework, this book offers an informative account of male victims of trafficking in Serbia. The seven main themes discussed include assistance for victims, education, prosecution, prevention, monitoring, research, and the establishment of a central database. Also included are a number of recommendations and conclusions for advancing the rights and protection of male trafficked victims.

  • Scarpa, Silvia. Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199541904.001.0001

    Embracing a legal approach to human trafficking, the author gives particular attention to the efforts of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Scarpa also explores the definitional challenges and limitations of the various laws and international agreements. The book concludes with a call for more and better research centered on trafficking and its victims.

  • van Dyne, Petrus, and Jon Spencer, eds. Flesh and Money: Trafficking in Human Beings. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Wolf Legal, 2011.

    This edited collection includes thirteen contributions from recognized experts throughout Europe. The chapters address trafficking in such countries as Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, and the Ukraine. The editors, in particular, offer a critically reflective discourse calling for a shift away from conventional approaches to recognizing that in some instances trafficking “can even result in less harm” (p. 15).

  • Winterdyk, John, Benjamin Perrin, and Philip Reichel, eds. Human Trafficking: Exploring the International Nature, Concerns, and Complexities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2012.

    This edited book comprises twelve chapters representing contributions from a panel of international experts. The book covers a wide range of issues, including challenges of defining human trafficking, techniques used to protect and support victims, efforts to explain human trafficking, the experiences of victims of trafficking, and strategies for the enforcement and prosecution of offenders.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.