Encounters Between Violence and Media| Trafficked Women in Press Journalism: Politics and Ambivalence in the Quest for Visibility
This article explores discursive constructions of women trafficked for sexual exploitation in newspaper articles in the United Kingdom and the United States. I draw on the results of a multimodal discourse analysis of 25 articles published in 2018 across seven newspapers. The framework of politics of pity is used to analyze the politics of representation of trafficked women. The analysis yields six categories that fall into two themes: Agency is depicted through trafficked women as deceased, controlled, and injured subjects, and visibility through the categories of strangers, victims, and survivors. These ways of appearance suggest that, in newspaper content, trafficked women are placed on a hierarchy of victimhood. Appeals to compassionate care are reserved for “ideal victims,” while those lower on the hierarchy are construed as ambivalent subjects lacking a political voice. The study shows that dominant constructions of public suffering reflect a neo-abolitionist politics of representation, while marginalized identities and subjectivities are framed through ambivalence. To expand the remit of care, ambivalence could be productively used to contextualize social oppression in media accounts of human trafficking.