Midwestern Service Provider Narratives of Migrant Experiences: Legibility, Vulnerability, and Exploitation in Human Trafficking


  • Jennifer Chappell Deckert University of Kansas Bethel College
  • Sherry Warren University of Kansas
  • Hannah Britton University of KansasPolitical ScienceWomen, Gender, and Sexuality Studies




Service providers, human trafficking, vulnerability, migrants, labor exploitation


This exploratory study examined the vulnerability and exploitation of migrants from the perspective of service providers who work in social service organizations. Researchers conducted 16 interviews and 1 focus group with service providers whose clientele had direct experience with migration. These service providers indicated that there is incongruence, even tension, between a welcoming local response to migrant populations and the state-level political rhetoric and policy initiatives, which are predominantly anti-immigration. This study demonstrates that there are contradictions and tensions related especially to exploitation in Midwest migrant populations. Service providers acknowledged complexity in the problems related to migrant vulnerability and exploitation and were interested in change. Findings of this study highlight particular vulnerabilities of migrant populations, a lack of legibility of human trafficking in social service organizations, and a difference between political rhetoric and local responses to migrant populations. Policies and practices in social service delivery need to reflect the subtleties of risk for exploitation and offer broad preventive support for migrant populations through education and advocacy.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Chappell Deckert, University of Kansas Bethel College

Jennifer's research interests include international social work, mental health, migration, human rights, pedagogy, and human behavior theory.  She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas and Assistant Professor of Social Work at Bethel College.

Sherry Warren, University of Kansas

Sherry's interests are in spirituality and mindfulness practices, international social work and globalization, women's well-being worldwide, and social work education. Sherry is a doctoral student at the University of Kansas and Assistant Professor of Social Work at Clarke University.

Hannah Britton, University of KansasPolitical ScienceWomen, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Hannah Britton is an associate professor in the departments of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Britton's scholarship focuses on women and politics, gender and African politics, the prevention of gender-based violence, and human trafficking. Britton is also the Director of the Center for the Study of Injustice at the Institute of Policy & Social Research at the University of Kansas. In this role, she coordinates KU's Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative (ASHTI), which is a working group of faculty and students engaged in teaching and research about slavery, labor exploitation, and commercial sexual exploitation. She is the lead researcher on a project in the Midwest examining the factors that may leave someone vulnerable to exploitation. Hannah also coordinates a working group of faculty and graduate students using qualitative research methods in their teaching and scholarship.


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