An Analysis of the Development of Commercial Sex Trafficking Laws and the Influence of Feminist Theory
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An Analysis of the Development of Commercial Sex Trafficking Laws and the Influence of Feminist Theory

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Commercial sex trafficking has been a focus of legislation since the Federal TraffickingVictims Protection Act of 2000 was passed. Subsequent to the federal legislation, states across the country began adopting their own legislation to combat commercial sex trafficking. Interrogating commercial sex trafficking laws can lead to a better understanding of how opposing activist views have shaped their evolution. Within Feminist theory, there are two opposing theoretical camps within which scholars of sexual exploitation or sex work fall. The first, radical feminists, view prostitution as the root cause of commercial sex trafficking and conflate the two (Leidholt, 2004). The second, sex positivists, differentiate between prostitution and commercial sex trafficking while supporting the decriminalization of prostitution. By tracing the two relevant feminist theories, each with different beliefs about how certain sexual behaviors should be defined and regulated, and looking at how they are articulated within two state laws, we can better understand the development of the law as well as the law’s impact. A review of the literature suggests that the anti-trafficking campaign became a government priority as a result of the activism of radical feminists. Despite there being two opposing feminist theoretical frameworks, it appears that sex positivism is not represented in the laws or policy. With the exception of Nevada, the United States has criminalized prostitution and society has stigmatized it as immoral and intrinsically harmful (Weitzer, 2007). Also, the “moral crusade” of radical feminists has successfully conflated sex trafficking and prostitution, which has helped justify the attack on all commercial sex. The result is a shift in societal views and behaviors that are more in line with those of radical feminists.

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