The rhetorical possibilities of representation: how survivor narratives frame sex trafficking

Reed, Shelly, author
Jacobi, Tobi, advisor
Thompson, Deborah, committee member
Anderson, Karrin, committee member
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Many scholars across disciplines have highlighted and critiqued the existing dominant narratives of sex trafficking circulating in popular representations. These dominant narratives are also referred to as the neoabolitionist framework, which tends to tell a story of clear-cut criminals and victims. Recently, academics have advocated for the human rights framework, which aims to empower victims and examines the problem of human trafficking as part of complex systems rather than a phenomenon among deviant individuals. However, there is a gap in these scholarly conversations when thinking about how these frameworks apply to self-representations of survivors. This thesis looks at ten sex trafficking survivor narratives to examine the ways these narratives align with other representations. First, I use Kenneth Burke’s notion of terministic screens to examine how the author's context and publication platform affect the ways in which these women can represent themselves, in order to complicate ideas about the rhetorical possibilities of self-representation. Next, using Burke's theories on tragic and comic framing, I argue that the neoabolitionist framework tends to frame the issue tragically, while the human rights framework tends to frame the issue comically, and I examine the ways in which the women's narratives subscribe to either framework and/or how they blend them. While the neoabolitionist framework and human rights framework of sex trafficking are set up as binaries in the scholarly literature, my findings reveal that survivors combine these frameworks when telling their own story. This blending of frameworks suggests an alternative perspective, or in Burke’s words, perspective by incongruity. The conclusion of this thesis suggests how the findings from survivors can help inform and reshape the ways in which activists, scholars, government officials, media, and law enforcement represent sex trafficking survivors to more accurately reflect their lived experience.
Includes bibliographical references.
2015 Summer.
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sex trafficking
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