Sociology professors Brooke Wagner and Jennifer Whitmer spoke about their findings from an experiment analyzing and comparing the cultural framings of paid sex and lived experiences on Jan. 18.
The two women first spoke about the social structures and frameworks that surround human trafficking. These cultural frames, similar to stereotypes, categorize young girls between the ages of 12 to 13 to automatically be victims of sex trafficking. Some other common frameworks in the human trafficking world include it only affecting women or young girls, that drug addiction is often involved and that the victims of sex trafficking are unable to get out of the system.
“There are positives and negatives that accompany this framework,” Whitmer said. “The positives being that it destigmatizes minors, therefore making it safer for them to come forward. But, the disadvantage leaves out those who don’t fit the ‘victim’ picture.”
After deciding on an appropriate experimental design, the team started by handing out flyers asking those apart of the human trafficking system to come forward to be interviewed for pay. The team placed these flyers in areas that they knew to be popular for sex trafficking as well as spread the word online.
After analyzing their results, the women were very interested to see how much of the population fit the framework.
“We found that 21% of our sample were women or girls between the ages of 13 and 17 which fits the frame we were looking for,” Wagner said.
Wagner and Whitmer also found interesting results regarding the gender of the participants.
“35.7 percent of the tested population were male, 60.3 percent women and four percent identified as transgender,” said Wagner. “We found that the men in the study were often ignored because they fell outside of the framework and weren’t assumed to be apart of the trafficking whereas the women were constantly aware of the locations of the police because they fit the stereotype and were seen as a threat.”
Despite those numbers, the most shocking conclusion came from how the women used the money they received from the trafficking. Considering the high crime rate in the area, it wasn’t shocking to see that 19 percent of the participants used the money to buy drugs or other illegal substances. But, an astonishing 39 percent of participants used the money for clothes or shoes and 22 percent used it to pay off bills or other debts.
At the conclusion of the colloquium, Wagner and Whitmer gave their conclusions regarding what should be done with the data they gathered. Based on their findings, the team suggested that companies and services that wish to help these people should assume a “polymorphous framing.”
“Each participant had a different story and different reasons for getting involved in trafficking, so we believe that it’s important to appeal to those differences when designing programs to help these people,” said Wagner. “A program that is specific to each victim is more likely to have higher rates of success than a program that has more general policies.”