FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

Institutionalizing Human Trafficking. A French/German Comparison. – ProsCrim

ProsCrim - Institutionalizing Trafficking in Human Beings. A French-German comparison

Fighting against Trafficking: Governing Borders, Regulating Sexualities

A policy and its actors: understanding institutional categories based on agents' practices

In an international and national context marked by the multiplication of debates and instruments aimed at combating trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, the ProsCrim project focused on institutional practices for qualifying and categorizing the forms of exploitation surrounding prostitution in France and Germany. The survey aimed in particular to deconstruct the institutional categories used (and in particular those of «victim« / «perpetrator« of trafficking in human beings). To this end, the methodology provided both for 1. an ethnography of the interactions between persons in prostitution and/or procuring situations and the State and non-State actors responsible for their control and care (associations, police and judicial actors); and 2. an ethnography of the arenas and actors that have enabled the creation, consolidation and circulation of forms of expertise on trafficking, and in particular on the identification of its «victims«. Finally, the project aimed at questioning, through the analysis of two different regimes for regulating prostitution (regulatory in Germany and abolitionist in France), the weight of the legal framework on locally implemented categorization practices.

The ProsCrim project was supported by a team of French and German researchers from the fields of political science, sociology and political philosophy. Drawing on a research current inspired by Lipsky's work and advocating an ethnographic approach to state institutions, the project aimed to contribute to Franco-German research works proposing a sociology of the State by adding to their comparative analyses an ethnographic underpinning that has not yet been deployed. Many hours of observations were collected in courtrooms during trials for procuring and/or trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation, in the premises of associations providing assistance to prostitutes, as well as in training courses, conferences and meetings bringing together community actors and public authorities on the issue of trafficking and the identification of its victims. These observations were supplemented by interviews with social workers from associations as well as with judges and lawyers, with police officers specializing or not in the fight against pimping, and with academic, governmental and non-governmental «experts«.

The ProsCrim project has in particular highlighted how French policies aimed at combatting trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation are at the interface between border control and sexual regulation, as they take place within an abolitionist framework and present trafficking as a phenomenon closely linked to migration issues. The local practices of labelling exploitation situations, by focusing on foreigners when tracking down deviant practices, seem to be part of a post-colonial heritage, making the control of the intimate a privileged place for questioning the compatibility of foreigners with the national community.

Beyond the specific case of trafficking, the analyses developed within the project enhance our understanding of public policies, chiefly in the fields of migration and prostitution policies. Doing so, it also contributes to the growing literature on ethnography of the state and its agents.

The ProsCrim project has given rise to a number of presentations, particularly at international conferences. These aimed to open a dialogue with Anglo-Saxon research works analyzing the gendered and racialised dimension of anti-trafficking policies, by adding an ethnographic perspective to a field of research dominated by macro-sociological analyses. Two books are being prepared (in French and English), and publications in various media (journals, collective works), individual or collective, have been published or are to be published.

The research project aims at examining the interactions between migrant prostitutes and institutions in charge of their
control or assistance, as well as the categorization processes that take place within these institutions. Special attention will be drawn to the negotiations through which specific (foreign) sex workers are defined as genuine victims. The notion of victimhood has indeed become key to the ways in which prostitution of foreign women is being discussed in the media and the political sphere. The German and French regulatory models will serve as case studies, Germany having chosen a regulatory and France an abolitionist policy. In a context where academic research has often been caught up in national controversies over the proper regulation of the sex trade, a comparison between Germany and France offers an opportunity to assess the influence of legal frameworks on local administrative practices. The interdisciplinary team of the project is composed of French and German researchers and post-doctoral researchers specialized in issues of prostitution and trafficking. The team will contribute to the existing literature by combining an analysis of national legal frameworks and ethnographies of governmental and nongovernmental practices of control and assistance to foreign prostitutes. The confrontation between discourses and practices aims at enlightening the (elusive) use of legally available categories in daily interactions. The focus here will be on street level bureaucrats, on the partially overlapping and contradicting criteria, norms and rules they use on their work, and on the conditions under which a specific person is regarded as an offender or a victim. In so doing, this research will open a window onto broader changes in today’s security policies. Studying anti- trafficking policies will also provide a contribution to the comparative sociology of states and their agencies.

Project coordination

DARLEY Mathilde (Organisme de recherche)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Politik, Uni Leipzig Universität leipzig, Institut für Politikwissenschaft

Help of the ANR 244,845 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: June 2014 - 36 Months

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