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Book Review


Benjamin N. Lawrance and Richard L. Roberts, ed., Trafficking in Slavery's Wake: Law and the Experience of Women and Children. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2012. Pp. v + 271. $26.36 (paper).


     In the edited volume, Trafficking in Slavery's Wake: Law and the Experience of Women and Children, editors Benjamin N. Lawrance and Richard L. Roberts seek to cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of human trafficking through an interdisciplinary discussion of the human rights issue. Contributors include activists and academics spanning an array of disciplines including history, anthropology, and legal studies. The collection, which originated from the 10th annual "Law and Colonialism Symposium" at Stanford's Humanities Center in 2009, contributes to human trafficking scholarship by analyzing it, not as a new phenomenon, but as a modern iteration of slavery.

     Trafficking in Slavery's Wake consists of an introduction, eleven chapters, and an afterword. The essays take place from the mid-19th century to modern day. While some deal with specific case studies of African states or regions, others take a thematic approach. The chapters are divided into two complementary parts, exploring the historical antecedents of human trafficking and modern attempts to combat it, respectively.

     Part I, "Trafficking in Colonial Africa," contains six chapters that foreground modern human trafficking in nineteenth century slave trade practices. In chapter one, "Trafficking and Reenslavement: The Social Vulnerability of Women and Children in Nineteenth-Century East Africa," Elisabeth McMahon analyzes the cases of three women from Pemba Island who were made into slaves in the 1890s, an ambiguous period that permitted slave ownerships but forbid the sale or trade of slaves in this region. McMahon finds that social vulnerability, not racial identity, was a better indicator of trafficked women and children and argues that, "in many respects little has changed" in trafficking today (30). Chapter two, "Without the Slave Trade, No Recruitment, From Slave Trading to 'Migrant Recruitment' in the Lower Congo, 1830–1890," addresses the "French migration scheme" and other European efforts to recruit indentured labor for their colonies after slave trade abolition in the 1860s. Author Jelmer Vos uses data gathered largely from French officials aboard slave and labor exportation vessels to illustrate the ways in which established slave supply networks from the nineteenth century are inexorably connected to the recruitment of labor in post-abolition Africa. In chapter three, the volume's co-editor, Richard Roberts demonstrates the way in which "crises," or events that galvanized anti-slavery action on the part of French administration, were episodic. He argues that anti-slavery activities were inconsistently enforced and therefore served to force slavery underground in Africa instead of eliminating the practice. This buttresses McMahon's findings that colonial practices resulted in the persistence of dominant trends, such as the vulnerability of women and children, in contemporary trafficking. In, "Under the Guise of Guardianship and Marriage, Mobilizing Juvenile and Female Labor in the Aftermath of Slavery in Kayes, French Soudan, 1900–1939," (chapter four) Marie Rodet describes the blurred line between fosterage, child bondage, pawnship, and forced marriage in the aftermath of legal slavery and the way in which this ambiguity contributed to the persistence of social hierarchies where women and girls were, again, more vulnerable to exploitation. She uses transcripts of civil-court disputes from Kayes, French Soudan in the early 20th century to elucidate the way in which this ambiguity contributed to the contemporary articulation of trafficking of women and children in post-abolition Soudan and Mali. In chapter five, Carina Ray discusses the history of prostitution and trafficking in British West Africa in the late 1930s to elucidate how colonial ideas of race and gender influenced the development of colonial regulation of the sex trade. Bernard Freaman's essay, "Islamic Law and Trafficking in Women and Children in the Indian Ocean World," (chapter six) looks at the paradoxical role of Islam in the Indian Ocean slave trade. The blurred distinction between free and enslaved in Islamic law, he argues, continues to influence the trafficking of women and children.

     Part II of Trafficking in Slavery's Wake explores, "the intersection of humanitarianism, international law and domestic law, and interstate regional policies" (14). In chapter seven, Jean Allain looks at the path of trafficking and human exploitation, especially as "exploitation" has come to form part of the legal definition of human trafficking as articulated within the 2000 Palermo Protocol. He traces the link between human exploitation rhetoric in the abolitionist movements of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the evolution of international law dealing with trafficked persons. Benjamin Lawrance's essay, "Documenting Child Slavery with Personal Testimony, The Origin of Antitrafficking NGO's and Contemporary Neo-abolitionism," (chapter eight) historicizes the use of individual stories of child slaves as rhetoric employed by neoabolitionists to further their cause. It focuses on two techniques of abolitionist advocacy, the framing of child trafficking as a crisis and the reproduction of child testimony. Lawrance also explores the tensions among new abolitionists, specifically their relationship with the news media and the culpability of parents and intermediaries in the trafficking of children. Margaret Akullo's essay (chapter nine), demonstrates the difficulty of creating a comprehensive picture of the trafficking of women and children by describing efforts to create effective antitrafficking agencies and policies in the United Kingdom. She argues that the different collaborative efforts from the governments of human trafficking source, transit, and destination countries still need to be properly coordinated to ensure the success of policymaking. Susan Kreston's essay (chapter ten) addresses the tension between the policies designed to impugn human traffickers and protect trafficked persons and the debates related to curtailing the occurrence of human trafficking. She focuses specifically on the case of Elsie, a victim of South African sex trafficking to highlight the challenges and complexities of creating effective anti-trafficking legislation in Africa. Similarly, Liza Stuart Buchbinder's essay in chapter eleven looks at the implications of ranking states according to their human trafficking status by comparing the results of the ranking system on Togo and Nigeria. The afterword written by Kevin Bales and Jody Sarich, titled "The Paradox of Women, Children and Slavery," looks at the special vulnerability of women and children, asserting that culture is a powerful tool in the legitimization of modern slavery. They find that while slavery is a total control over one person by another, the enslavement of women and children is even more holistic than that of men.

     Overall, Trafficking in Slavery's Wake reveals the legacy of pre-abolition slave policy, culture, and law to modern iterations of human trafficking, especially the vulnerability of women and children. The volume's easy readability makes it a valuable pedagogical tool at both the graduate and undergraduate level. And while each chapter of the volume provides unique insight into the human rights issue, the essays' diverse approaches and source material contribute even more to human trafficking scholarship collectively.

Alyssa Bowen is a Master's student of World History at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She can be reached at


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