Exploring the Relationship Between Human Trafficking and Prostitution Through an Analysis of State Statutes and Human Trafficking Initiatives

Teneshia Thurman

Advisor: James J. Willis, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Devon Johnson, Danielle Rudes, Elaine Gunnison

Online Location, Online
November 08, 2023, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


Prostitution is considered one of the world’s oldest professions, and it continues to be the subject of ongoing debates, particularly in the United States. It evokes concerns about fundamental values and concerns, such as morality, choice, and coercion, and it implicates larger social, cultural, and political views shaping attitudes towards women and sex. These debates seem to have garnered increased attention with the emergence of human trafficking as a major crime during the 1990s, particularly sex trafficking (which often bears a close resemblance to prostitution). This dissertation explores changing attitudes and responses toward prostitution and trafficking, with a particular focus on their relationship to one another. It does so through a critical analysis of the social, historical, and legal factors that have helped define these crimes and state responses to them. This provides a context for conducting a statutory analysis of prostitution and human trafficking laws, including a focus on how states have tried to define and distinguish human trafficking and prostitution as crimes within their statutes, including where they are placed in the state’s criminal code and the severity of punishments associated with them. This is then followed by a content analysis of how these statutes are interpreted through the mission statements and reports of human trafficking initiatives and taskforces designed to combat this problem at the state and local level. The overall purpose of this thesis is to contribute to ongoing debates about how these crimes are socially constructed and to deepen understanding about how their contested meanings contribute to a range of punitive and rehabilitative responses.