This Article explores the role of race in the prostitution and sex trafficking of people of color, particularly minority youth, and the evolving legal and social responses in the United States. Child sex trafficking has become a vital topic of discussion among scholars and advocates, and public outcry has led to safe harbor legislation aimed at shifting the legal paradigm away punishing prostituted minors and toward greater protections for this vulnerable population. Yet, policymakers have ignored the connection between race and other root factors that push people of color into America’s commercial sex trade.
This Article argues that race and racism have played a role in creating the epidemic of sex trafficking in the United States and have undermined effective legal and policy responses. Race intersects with other forms of subordination including gender, class, and age to push people of color disproportionately into prostitution and keep them trapped in the commercial sex industry. This intersectional oppression is fueled by the persistence of myths about minority teen sexuality, which in turn encourages risky sexual behavior. Moreover, today’s antitrafficking movement has failed to understand and address the racial contours of domestic sex trafficking in the United States and even perpetuates the racial myths that undermine the proper identification of minority youth as sex trafficking victims. Yet, the Obama administration has adopted new policies that raise awareness about the links between race and sex trafficking. These policies also facilitate the increased role of minority youth as leaders and spokespersons in the antitrafficking movement. Their voices defy stereotypes about Black sexuality and call upon legislators and advocates to address some of the unique vulnerabilities that kids of color face with respect to sex trafficking.