Stepnitz, Abigail. 7 September 2013. A woman’s place: Violence and the creation of gendered migrants and migration. Critical Legal Studies Conference, Queen’s University, Belfast. 

This article explores the ways individuals, society and the state use violence – personal and structural – to create and reinforce an acceptably ‘feminised’ sphere of migration. Drawing on scholarship which has problematised the social construction of individual women and ‘women’ as a group, as vulnerable, immobile, and private, this article will argue that it has been thus far impossible to effectively locate women within a migration discourse (or multiple migration discourses, as is often the case for male migrants). The historical location of women, physically and conceptually, in private spaces underpins the challenges in creating and representing the idea, let alone the reality, of an autonomous migrant woman. The article explores the legal and social constitution and reconstitution of regular and productive migration experiences, and the identity of ‘migrant’ itself, as inherently male (in particular, privileged, white and male), and how this contributes to an understanding of women’s migration as unusual and high-risk, and a characterisation of female migrants as inherently vulnerable. It also explores how this is perpetuated by the actions of individuals or other non-state actors (such as smugglers or organised crime groups) who perpetrate specific and often gender-based violence against female migrants, and the normalising of those experiences within our understanding of women and migration.  In particular the article highlights the creation and maintenance of a ‘trafficking’ discourse, and its impact on migration as an experience that results in women being expected to reproduce acceptably feminised types of labour, typically domestic or sexual labour, which reinforces the mutual exclusivity of the identities of ‘woman’ and ‘migrant.

Stepnitz, Abigail. 26 June 2012. A lie more disastrous than the truth: Asylum and the identification of trafficked women in the UK. Anti Trafficking Review (1), pp 104-119.

 This article explores the impact that nationality can have on a person’s experience of being identified as a victim of trafficking in the UK. Responses to individuals and disparities in rates of recognition depending on nationality are cause for great concern. The rhetoric and the response to women who have experienced trafficking varies considerably depending upon the citizenship, residency and documentation status of the individual, particularly highlighting the differential treatment of trafficking cases of British women, European Union nationals, and third-country (non UK, non EU) nationals, the majority of whom are also asylum seekers. This differential treatment is played out in multiple ways, many of which result in women’s inability to realise procedural and substantive rights. The article examines the use of official “identification” mechanisms that place women into the administrative category of “victim”, and the central role of the asylum system in all areas of UK anti-trafficking responses. 


Lam, Janice, Klara Skrivankova and Abigail Stepnitz. 2010. Rights and Recourse: A Guide to Legal Remedies for Trafficked Persons in the UK. London: Anti-Slavery International and the Poppy Project.

This Guide aims to be a practical manual for lawyers and social service providers by presenting an overview of the legal remedies available to trafficked persons under UK and international law. The guide contains practical annexes with examples of usage of the various methods for compensation for trafficked persons. The publication has been designed so that these annexes can be added to and detached when needed, in an attempt to make this guide a living document. 

Gaber, Milica, ed. Violence in the EU Examined: Policies on Violence against Women, Children & Youth in 2004 EU Accession Countries. Pp 151-161. Ljubljana: Univ. of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, 2009.

The first part of the book includes papers written by researchers working on the project titled, Ways of implementing the EU directives on Violence against Women, children and youth: good Practices and recommendations. In the second section, three theoretical inputs came from Carol Hagemann-White, Katja Filipčič and Jeff Hearn, whose papers (as well as Liz Kelly’s) were first presented at the Conference in Ljubljana in March 2009. The authors analyse different policies on violence against women from legal and sociological perspectives, suggest new approaches and solutions and are critical of current legislation and practices combating with violence against women. In the third part, Abigail Stepnitz, Dalida Rittossa and Milana Trbojević Palalić present two interesting research studies. In the first study, the author analyses the practice of mail-order brides and labels it as an industry and form of trafficking. In the second, the two authors present their research on secondary victimisation of children in Croatia.

Stepnitz, Abigail. Of Human Bondage: Trafficking in women and contemporary servitude in the UK. London: Poppy Project, 2009

Trafficking for forced labour and servitude takes many forms, but it is essential to  remember that it is overwhelmingly a responsive, demand-driven crime. That is, forced labour situations in any country will respond to the local or national demand for a certain kind of inexpensive or cost-free labour. In the UK that has predominantly taken the form of domestic labour, as well as work in the construction and agriculture industries. 

Persons trafficked for labour exploitation are deceived, coerced or forced into their situation, in the same way as those trafficked for sexual exploitation. The type of coercion or deception is particular to the life and circumstances of each person.  Women trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation do report many of the same ‘push factors,’ or reasons that may have compelled them to attempt to migrate, most with the promise of a ‘new opportunity’ in the form of work or education.

Domestic workers can become victims of trafficking if they are have been deceived about the nature of the work, have their wages withheld or their movements restricted, some in situations of debt bondage. Sexual abuse and rape of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) is common but underreported, and the disclosure of such abuse is used as a threat by employers who know what impact this would have on the workers (many would never be able to return to their families due to social and familial shame and stigma).

Just as with trafficking for sexual exploitation, we see a continuum of harm and human rights violations committed against vulnerable individuals in situations of forced labour. Establishing that different types of violence are responses to particular social, economic and cultural realities is helpful in terms of creating appropriate responses, but also heightens the risk of creating a hierarchy of victims.

Stepnitz, Abigail. Male-Ordered: The mail-order bride industry and trafficking in women for sexual and labour exploitation. London: Poppy Project, 2008. 

 Mail-order brides as unidentified victims of trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation. This report explores the concept of servile marriage and the ways in which it overlaps with trafficking and violence against women and girls, especially those brought to the United Kingdom. The report reviews the social, political and economic contexts in the UK and on a global scale that have contributed to the development and proliferation of the mail-order bride (MOB) industry, the trends that can currently be observed and the ways in which the industry promotes trafficking, slavery, prostitution, pornography, exploitation of vulnerable groups and racial and ethnic stereotyping. 

The report examines evidence from websites and marriage brokers as well as from men who have or intend to ‘purchase’ a wife. Much of this evidence reflects the disconcerting levels of racialisation, links with sexual abuse of children, and the use of deceit and coercion to lure women from their homes and communities into lives of servitude in the UK. Statistical evidence is also analysed to highlight trends in ethnic representation, region and country of origin, and the issuing of fiancée/spousal visas, reported trends in prostitution, Poppy Project referrals of women trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation, abuse of migrant domestic workers and overall rates of domestic violence suffered by women in the UK.  

The theme of this report – the trafficking of women and girls into servile marriage through ‘mail-order bride’ channels – is yet another frontier in the global struggle against contemporary slavery and the multiple ways in which women and girls are exploited. Trafficking is a primary example of the connection between poverty, development, migration, violence against women and sexual or labour exploitation.