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Title:Becoming a human trafficker: qualitatively examining social learning theory and social opportunity structure among Bulgarian human traffickers
Author(s):Asbill, Michelle Anne
Director of Research:Lough, Benjamin J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Lough, Benjamin J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ostler, Teresa; Wu, Chi-Fang; Tempest, Richard
Department / Program:School of Social Work
Discipline:Social Work
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Sexual exploitation
Abstract:Sexual exploitation is a human rights violation sustained by sophisticated organized crime syndicates and a lucrative sex industry. In Europe, research on human traffickers indicates that people choose to become a trafficker due to the juxtaposition of widespread poverty and poor economic opportunity with reliable, well paid employment in the illegitimate economy. Building on this, the primary aim of this dissertation was to expand this existing, one-dimensional (economic) theoretical framework by examining the theorized cognitive and behavioral mechanisms represented by a leading criminology theory (social learning theory) and a more recent concept (social opportunity structure) developed from organized crime theory, as a means to broaden the understanding of why a person becomes a human trafficker. Applying a multiple-case study research design, this aim was achieved by qualitatively examining both theories from the perspective of 16 Bulgarian human traffickers. Findings indicate that Bulgarian human traffickers were heavily influenced by a high benefits (money) – low cost (prison) dynamic represented by social learning theory’s third theoretical component (differential reinforcement). Moreover, this dynamic was further solidified by a general attitude of ambivalence and fatalism directed towards the Bulgarian political, economic, and criminal justice systems. The opportunity to participate in sexual exploitation for profit emerged primarily through peer and work relationships, most of which were not characterized as belonging to the gray economy, thereby offering non-organized crime affiliated individuals to supplement their low, legal economy salaries. Findings have implications for anti-trafficking policy, especially in the area of prevention, as well as for social workers working in the area of sexual exploitation.
Issue Date:2017-05-26
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Michelle Asbill
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-09-29
Date Deposited:2017-08

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