(E)racing Childhood: Examining the Racialized Construction of Childhood and Innocence in the Treatment of Sexually Exploited Minors


Over the last twenty years, domestic sexual trafficking of children has received increased attention from state and national policymakers and advocates. Indeed, states across the country have enacted laws establishing harsh new penalties for individuals convicted of domestic sexual trafficking. At the same time, arrest and conviction rates for Black girls within the juvenile justice system are increasing, often as a result of prostitution-related offenses. In this Article, I explore the race, gender, and class dynamics that animate these trends. In particular, I highlight the ways in which historic constructions of childhood, innocence, and sexuality shape antitrafficking law enforcement practices and how they have functioned in racialized and gendered ways to exclude Black girls from protection. Consequently, Black girls who are subject to sexual exploitation in the contemporary era are often labeled as offenders rather than victims. In sum, I contend that the intersectional identities of poor Black girls at once render them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and deny them access to protective antitrafficking regimes. To combat the discrimination that Black girls experience as a result of this exclusion, I propose decriminalization of girls who are subject to trafficking and robust investment in supportive race- and gender-conscious institutions that can prevent sexual exploitation.

About the Author

Associate Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

By uclalaw