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Human Trafficking Center

Her Body is Not for Sale, But Her Necklace Is


Feb 2017



By Annalise Yahne, Research Assistant

What comes to mind when you hear the words “sex trafficking”? An innocent child chained to a bed? A woman standing in the doorway of a brothel? Or perhaps you think of a bracelet, necklace, or bag that you bought, one that was made by a survivor of sex trafficking? You heard the somber story of how she was trying to start a new life and you wanted to help, you wanted to give her a job and be a part of her new beginning.

These organizations are known as social enterprise organizations. The mission statements of social enterprise organizations working with survivors all imply that they share a common goal: to rehabilitate sex trafficking survivors and to reintegrate them back into society by providing them with jobs. However, many of these organizations can be problematic and re-exploit sex trafficking survivors by using their lived experiences to execute an agenda that drives consumerism and profit for the organization.

Consumer as Her Savior

When purchasing an item made by a survivor, the tag might read “your purchase saves her life” or “you are making a difference.” This can perpetuate a mentality in which consumers feel responsible for the act of rescuing victims from sex trafficking. This responsibility can insinuate a “savior complex” within the consumer. An example of this rhetoric is seen in the organization Nomi Network, which aims to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking. These opportunities are represented by the bags and apparel that the women are employed to make. Nomi Network is best known for the slogan “Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body.” This type of rhetoric creates an ultimatum for consumers and re-exploits the woman by insinuating that she is going to have to sell one or the other, and that her life is dependent on their purchase.

The Control of Socio-Economic Class

The products available through these organizations are widely represented by feminine, handmade items. The jobs championed as alternatives to sex work eradicate the opportunity for upward growth and mobility for those in low social classes. Although some survivors may choose to work in an artistic field, making a beaded necklace is not a transferable job skill and it keeps survivors from sustaining economic and social growth. Instead of saying: “Meet your quota of having sex with ‘x’ number of clients today to make me money.” These organizations are saying “Meet your quota of making ‘x’ number of bracelets today to make me money.” Although, this might be a better alternative to the reality of trafficked individuals, these organizations are keeping survivors in low-wage work represented in the free market of the United States. They are profiting from the process of rescuing victims from one low-wage system to create survivors of another low-wage system.

Selling Her Story

As a consumer you want to feel good about your purchase, and social enterprise organizations know this. These organizations are captivating consumers by using moral implications. This is accomplished through embellishing the stories and including the names of the survivors with every item that is being purchased.

Sari Bari is an organization that operates to employ women to make items such as bags, blankets, and clothing. Each purchase comes with the name and “freedom birthday” of the woman who made the item. When browsing the website, the names and stories of each artisan are available for customers to read. The items for purchase are listed categorically by the name of each artisan. This strategy is parallel to the approach engaged by traffickers when advertising victims for sex. In both scenarios, there is an option for the customer to choose a woman based on her story, qualities, personality, and what she has to offer. The customer can then select a product made by her, a piece of jewelry, or a service provided by her, a sexual act.


Social enterprise organizations have a very important role to play in the rehabilitation of sex trafficking survivors. My criticism is less about what they are doing as an organization, but rather how they are accomplishing their work. There are a few actions that I believe could be done differently:

  • Secondly, I believe that these social enterprise organizations should prioritize teaching the survivors their rights as an employee, rather than maintaining their employment through the potentially harmful tactics discussed above. An important aspect of human trafficking is the disrespect for labor laws and the monetary rights that victims are deprived of.
  • Lastly, I believe that these organizations need to respect the survivor’s rights to identify as a victim, survivor, or neither. They share the stories of these women and girls and use rhetoric that implies that they are all survivors. Some of these women might want the employment opportunity, but do not desire to have their story or name shared. I think an effective organization should respect the survivors and their self-proclaimed status.


*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC

Photo by YumShrift via Pixabay


About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


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7 Responses to “Her Body is Not for Sale, But Her Necklace Is”

  1. Tabitha Wall

    Thank you Sarah for writing the response you did.

    I was shocked at the insuations and lack of real research that accompanied the opinions expressed. I think for most anyone who has actual experience working with trafficked women, it was easy to see that the blogger was well-intentioned perhaps, but lacking real insight beyond some ideas garnered from a few books.

    It was truly unfortunate that she would head a section, “Selling Her Story, ” and then mention your organization, and only your organization, in that section. The clear implication was her ‘opinion’ in that section was directed at your organization. She can respond that the blogpost was not written in ‘response’ to your organization, but it was irresponsible and potentially damaging to Sari Bari and the very women she is supposedly championing rights for. This is actually a case of defamation as she negligently communicated and published to third parties unsubstantiated interpretations that could cause damage to your organization’s reputation.

    I don’t imagine you will take the time to make her legally liable for damages, but I do hope your response encourages her in the future to be more careful about doing proper research before publishing. Perhaps you could offer her an internship in your organization so she could gain some much-needed experience and education, and more constructively channel her passion for trafficked women.

  2. Beth

    Hi Annalise, I found this article interesting (genuinely) and wonder what suggestions and solutions you propose for NGOS working with survivors? What would you propose for alternative employment or economic development? How would you market products made by survivors? I agree with not selling their story or re-exploiting. I find your opinion interesting. I have worked with survivors for over 11 years and have seen various programs work and not work. I have seen all those things that you mentioned above and people working against it. But I feel the generalization/criticism of the jewelry co-ops can be hurtful to those who do not fit those criteria. I have seen programs that are fully survivor run, who have control of what they make, how, how its marketed and work that while making jewelry, women have received other job skills that are transferable, increased education, including state certifications, provide an income for their families, received psychological care, and moved on to higher paid employment and lives. So although, I agree with some of the things you say. I think you have to be careful about generalizations because there are ones that comply with the recommendations you make. Also, genuinely, would love to hear what kinds of solutions you propose for this issue.

    • Annalise

      Hi Beth,

      Thank you for reading my blog post, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. I think that social enterprise organizations that are employing survivors of sex trafficking have a very important role to play in the rehabilitation of survivors. I agree with you about being careful of generalizations and I am sure that there are a lot of organizations doing great work. My blog post was not intended to imply that all of them are problematic, but rather to use a few examples and to theoretically and critically look at the idea behind capitalism and the use of business models in the field of human trafficking. The field of social enterprise is a rapidly growing industry that entertains positive objectives for survivors. However, rehabilitation is a field that needs further research and recommendations from scholars regarding services that are necessary for survivors of sex trafficking. I included a hyperlink to a social enterprise organization working with survivors that I personally found to have an interesting and productive model, Thistle Farms. This organization is a residential program that offers housing, medical care, therapy, education, and job training. They offer transferable job skills training in multiple sectors such as hospitality, management, paper-making, screen-printing, etc. As far as marketing products made by survivors, I think being aware of the action words such as “your purchase saves” and “you are making a difference.” These words have the potential to perpetuate a movement in which consumers feel responsible for the act of rescuing victims. The concept of the consumer being a savior can potentially re-exploit survivors of sex trafficking by utilizing their status as a victim to mobilize and drive consumerism.

      Thank you again for your response and your thoughts,

  3. Sarah

    Hi Annalise-

    We appreciate your opinion and would’ve loved to have had a conversation with you. I am sad to see such an un-vetted piece being published by someone who is supposedly doing graduate study in the area of human trafficking, some research would have been very helpful to your “research”.

    I want to address some of your recommendations, since you did not take the time to actually speak to anyone at Sari Bari or I am sure any of the other listed social businesses about how we actually do business:

    We do ask the women if they want to share their names and some part of their story. They choose whatever name they wish to represent them and we share brief positive affirmations of who the women are (with their permission), not their trauma stories. Nor do we share their pictures, faces without their signed permission and more than 5 years of employment with us, so they understand what we are asking of them when we ask to share their photo. All advertising is storytelling dear, we just have a personal story, that is told with permission. The goal is as you said to connect the customer to the artisan. To connect the consumer to the fact the product is made a person, and with every purchase you can make a positive impact and be sure that the person making it has a fair wage etc. As opposed to fast fashion and a consumer who is disconnected from the fact that when they buy clothes, the person making them may not have a received a fair wage or fair working hours or a good work environment etc.

    All artists sign their work, these women are trained artisans and are proud to sign their work, with a name they chose to represent them.

    Sari Bari is highly committed to internal promotion, 17 of the 120 at sari bari are managers, assistant managers, trainers and team leaders. 27 women are shareholders in the company and 2 women are directors in the company. All women are invited to be shareholders after 5 years of employment, they choose whether to participate.

    We provide a long term employment solution to women who choose to the leave the sex trade. They have health care and retirement and support for their kids to stay in school plus a safe supportive community plus they receive an annual bonus of a months wages every year—how many employers in the USA do all that? I would ask you the question how you give transferable skills to women who are 35 and illiterate with poor motor skills? Many of the women who are able, do receive transferrable skills like professional sewing machine training and may take employment elsewhere. However, they can expect to work 12 hour days and receive no benefits or the even close to the same wages as they do at Sari Bari for a regular 40 hours a week.

    Sari Bari follows fair trade standards, 70% of the cost of the goods sold goes to wages and benefits for the women. Profits from goods sold in the USA go through a non profit and the profits go back to support women’s children in school, HIV AIDS support, Well Woman Check ups, training, mental health services and continuing education for the women who want it. BTW I worked for ten years without any financial benefit or salary from Sari Bari.

    May I ask what your actual engagement is with trafficked and exploited women internationally and how many of these social enterprises internationally you have visited? How many women who work for them you have visited and spoken with to garner their opinion? And where did you get the research on which you have based your opinion?

    It’s an interesting opinion that the strategy of social businesses is parallel to those of traffickers. Human Traffickers engage in the buy and selling of human being with no participation from the person that is being trafficked. The person being trafficked is not paid and has no free will. Their bodies are sold for labor or sex without their permission. Having been in many brothels, I have seen customers pick out a girl, its 15 seconds with a light in their face, customer chooses the one he’s attracted to and there is no personality test, sweetie.

    Working at a Freedom business is a choice. The women are paid fairly, they have benefits, they are determiners of their own story and they are their own saviors, as they take steps to a new life from an old life from which no one bothered to rescue them.

    Its interesting that we could have the support of 4 US Ambassadors who actually visited us in India and yet not find the support of a grad student who did not do her research, you present no actual facts here dear. Maybe you and Kelly Anne Conway should be friends.

    Sarah Lance
    Founder and Managing Director
    Sari Bari Private Limited

    • Annalise

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for reading my blog post, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. This blog post was not written in response to Sari Bari as an organization but rather your organization was mentioned in one of the sections, “Selling Her Story.” The parallel mentioned was my opinion, it was an observation that this strategy might be problematic because when a purchase is intertwined with emotions revolving around sympathy towards another individual, it further reiterates a “savior complex” for the consumer. Two of my sources used to study this phenomenon include; The Marketing Power of Emotion, by John O’Shaughnessy and Nicholas J. O’Shaughnessy and Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns, by Elizabeth Bernstein.

      My argument is not intended to confront your organization, but to theoretically and critically look at the idea behind capitalism and the use of business models in the field of human trafficking. Additionally, not all of my recommendations to which you responded were directed at your particular organization.

      The field of social enterprise is a rapidly growing industry that entertains positive objectives for survivors. However, rehabilitation is a field that needs further research and recommendations from scholars regarding services that are necessary for survivors of sex trafficking.

      Thank you again for your response,

  4. Peter Livingston

    Broad brush generalities seldom hit their target. Such is the case with this blog. Let me advise what I see.

    1. I see general conclusion not supported by more than the authors interpretation.
    2. Job training is of corse important but it must be built on a foundation of first acknowledging and rebuilding human dignity. Seldom do victims believe that their lives have value. Much has to occur before job training begins
    3. Job training begs the question, what jobs? Where do the jobs come from?
    4. Frequently those who enter a social enterprise for recovery gain life skills and self worth and move on as entrepreneurs. Now that is upward mobility. Most social enterprises provide wages, benefits and conditions well above the local standard. Many provide educational opportunities for those who desire an upward path. Many desire only the security of a safe environment for work. Social enterprises generally afford both at the workers wish.

    Please, be careful if the broad brush it seldom hits the line.

    • Annalise

      Hi Peter,

      Thank you for reading my blog post and for the response. I agree with you that there are many factors that go into rehabilitating survivors of sex trafficking. I think that social enterprise organizations have a very important role to play. The field of social enterprise is a rapidly growing industry that entertains positive objectives for survivors. My blog post was intended to theoretically and critically look at the idea behind capitalism and the use of business models in the field of human trafficking.

      Thank you again for your response,

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