Within trafficking discourses, men appear as predatory and exploitative, while boys appear as victims. This flattens the complexities of social life and obscures the ways that constructs of masculinity frame the trajectories of labour migrants and their brokers. This article challenges those discourses, drawing on research with two groups of labour migrants characterized as ‘victims of trafficking’, as well as with ‘traffickers’ who help them to move and work. The first are adolescents moving from Benin to the gravel quarries of Abeokuta, Nigeria. The second are adults from across West Africa who have made the illegal journey to Italy, where they live in ‘ghettos’ and work as gang labourers on harvests. In each case, migrants and their brokers come from the same or similar communities; (shared) ideals of masculinity structure their mobility and labour. Gendered transitions towards adulthood, the pressure to attain riches and status and a duty of responsibility to those younger and less successful are important. A focus on their masculinities takes us beyond ‘victim-perpetrator’ dyads.
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