2: From Social to Legal: Shifting Approaches to Trafficking at the Turn of 20th-Century England

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This chapter argues that trafficking in women, or White slavery as then called, became understood as a legal issue at the turn of 20th-century England, and as a response attracted several legal, and certain criminal law, solutions. Drawing from the archival records of the National Vigilance Association and the International Abolitionist Federation in particular, the chapter examines how the certain civil society organizations gained and used the legal power during the period and the role that civil society action played in the legislative process. The first part of the chapter explores the emergence of language of victimhood, coercion, and social restraints in relation to the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts and how this impacted both legal and social framing of trafficking. The second part explores how social reform campaigners such as William Coote understood and spoke of law’s power and potential. Through this analysis, the chapter shows how tensions grew between different organizations and argues that as civil society centred legislative processes and anti-White slavery laws, openly feminist actors and agenda became sidelined from mainstream discussions. Ultimately, the chapter shows how White slavery transformed from a social to a legal issue in England, revealing profound disagreements about the potential and dangers of legal power amid social reform campaigners.

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