Sex trafficking: How the media portrays victims and reflects legislation
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Sex trafficking is a pervasive problem in the United States and around the world. For most of its history in the United States, the issue of sex trafficking has been hidden from the public and pushed into the back of peoples' minds. It has been a problem that people are sympathetic to, but made to believe is not happening in our country. Recently, though, light has been shed on this problem through increased public awareness, primarily through the news media. Using a content analysis, I investigated the content of news media articles that have been used to describe the people involved in sex trafficking. Looking at these articles through a symbolic interactionism lens was deemed the most appropriate framework for this study. Morality, ethics, values, and even reality are created through our interactions (Ritzer and Goodman 2004). By using newspaper articles as a medium for which people are interacting with and receiving information, I can gain an understanding of the meanings that are being attached to sex trafficking victims. Historically, those that have been sex trafficked have been criminalized as prostitutes, even when they were victims. With the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000, however, the US implemented a critical legislative tool for identifying sex trafficking victims and prosecuting the traffickers, rather than the trafficked. This act has trickled down to the state level where some states have developed their own legislation to reflect the TVPA. In the current study, I examined how representations of sex trafficking victims in major newspapers differs between states which have high or low quality legislation on this issue, as determined by recently published "state report cards" on the effectiveness of all U.S. states' sex trafficking legislation, by the Protected Innocence Initiative (2011).