Punishing criminals or protecting victims: a critical mixed methods analysis of state statutes related to prostitution and sex trafficking

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This study uses the ontological lenses of discourse theory to conduct a critical mixed-methods analysis of state statutes related to prostitution and sex trafficking. The primary research question of the

This study uses the ontological lenses of discourse theory to conduct a critical mixed-methods analysis of state statutes related to prostitution and sex trafficking. The primary research question of the study was, "How do state laws communicate and reinforce discourses related to sex trafficking and prostitution and how do these discourses reinforce hegemony and define the role of the state?" A mixed methods approach was used to analyze prostitution and sex trafficking related annotated and Shepardized statutes from all fifty states. The analysis found that not all prostitution related discourses found in the literature were present in state statutes. Instead, statutes could be organized around five different themes: child abuse, exploitation, criminalization, place, and licensing and regulation. A deeper analysis of discourses present across and within each of these themes illustrated an inconsistent understanding of prostitution as a social problem and an inconsistent understanding of the legitimate role of the state in regulating or criminalizing prostitution. The inconsistencies in the law suggest concerns for equal protection under the law based upon a person's perceived deservingness, which often hinges on his or her race, class, gender identity, sexuality, age, ability, and nationality. Implications for the field include insights into a substantive policy area rarely studied by policy and administration scholars, a unique approach to mixed methods research, and the use of a new technique for analyzing vast quantities of unstructured data.