Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

Second Department

Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

First Advisor

Andrea Foroughi

Second Advisor

Guillermina Seri


Women, Sex Trafficking, United States, New York


Sex trafficking is a vicious crime and has been denoted as a form of modern-day slavery, accumulating nearly 21 million victims worldwide. Women and girls make up 95% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, which reflects the dominance of patriarchy operating in the U.S. and across the globe. When it comes to the sex trafficking of women, it is often seen as a problem that happens elsewhere, never close to us. This hegemonic narrative that exoticizes sex trafficking contributes to keeping the problem in the dark. Yet an estimated 200,000 people are forced into the sex trade in the United States every year; the majority of these are American citizens, many of them trafficked within the borders of the United States—from one municipality to another, and across state lines. The pervasiveness of patriarchal social norms often makes human trafficking and sexual exploitation a normalized and yet sometimes invisible crime.

Drawing on both feminist theory and political science’s focus on governance, this thesis analyzes the sex trafficking of women with a three-pronged approach, reconstructing the main legal, conceptual, and institutional frameworks available to prevent and respond to sex trafficking, and assessing their contributions and limitations within the United States. Attention paid to defining sex trafficking as distinct from labor trafficking and prostitution.

Offering a brief historical overview, the introductory chapter reconstructs the process through which the sex trafficking of women gained visibility both as a problem of public concern and as a subject of scholarly research. Two main questions at the center of the introductory chapter are, first, the vagueness of definitions, which contributes to leaving victims overlooked, and second, the assumptions that sex trafficking happens elsewhere. In turn, Chapter 2 looks at the international dimensions of the sex trafficking of women, characterizing and assessing the effectiveness of the main institutional, legal and conceptual frameworks and instruments in place. With a focus on the United States, Chapter 3 explores both national and state laws and institutional mechanisms as they apply to the sex trafficking of women. In doing so, the chapter will also examine the relations between the United States' and the international institutional and legal frameworks. When, how, and why do U.S. institutions opt in and out of international law in addressing cases of sex trafficking of women? When are international, federal, and state laws privileged by courts? Chapter 4 then digs deep into legal cases that have occurred in New York State. It explores specific legislation and acts that have been passed at a state-level.



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