The Global Diffusion of Law: Transnational Crime and the Case of Human Trafficking

Beth A. Simmons, Paulette Lloyd, Brandon Michael Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


In the past few decades new laws criminalizing certain transnational activities have proliferated: from money laundering, corruption, and insider trading to trafficking in weapons and drugs. Human trafficking is one example. We argue that criminalization of trafficking in persons has diffused in large part because of the way the issue has been framed: primarily as a problem of organized crime rather than predominantly an egregious human rights abuse. Framing human trafficking as an organized crime practice empowers states to confront cross-border human movements viewed as potentially threatening. We show that the diffusion of criminalization is explained by road networks that reflect potential vulnerabilities to the diversion of transnational crime. We interpret our results as evidence of the importance of context and issue framing, which in turn affects perceptions of vulnerability to neighbors' policy choices. In doing so, we unify diffusion studies of liberalization with the spread of prohibition regimes to explain the globalization of aspects of criminal law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-281
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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