Black Girls and the (Im)Possibilities of a Victim Trope: The Intersectional Failures of Legal and Advocacy Interventions in the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors in the United States


The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) considers all youth less than eighteen years of age trafficking victims without a showing of force, fraud, or coercion. The presumption is that minors cannot legally consent to sex and thus are always victims. Being characterized as a victim helps youth access support services and avoid prosecution in certain circumstances. However, local and state governments struggle to provide all youth with comprehensive resources. Additionally, legal and advocacy interventions fail to substantively engage racialized vulnerabilities that serve as pathways into the sex trade and the juvenile justice system.

Black girls are disproportionally prosecuted for prostitution offenses yet their narratives are seldom heard. Controlling images of Black womanhood, as unvirtuous, immoral, and blameworthy, impact interactions between Black girls and the juvenile justice system, as well as, service providers. By overlooking race, the TVPA and antitrafficking advocates do not anticipate and remedy the complexity of applying a victim standard to Black girls and other marginalized youth.

Consequently, the TVPA and antitrafficking discourse fail to respond to the economic forces driving sexual exploitation and sexual exchange. Rather, interventions to address the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) have put forth a limited narrative—magnifying sensationalized depictions of violence and force—and focus primarily on strengthening law enforcement apparatuses, which reinforce racial profiling and oversurveillance in low-income communities of color.

Therefore, this Comment challenges the use of victim rhetoric in antitrafficking interventions and confronts the absence of racial discourse when devising next-steps. Centering the unique experiences of Black girls reveal the limitations of current narratives and strategies deployed in antitrafficking policies, which include failing to create nonjudgmental services and viable alternatives to sex work for youth.

About the Author

Jasmine Phillips is a 2015 graduate of UCLA School of Law with specializations in Critical Race Studies and the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. She graduated from UC San Diego in 2012 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Critical Gender Studies and Sociology and a minor in African-American Studies. She is from Long Beach, California.

By uclalaw