Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Keith Gunnar Bentele

Second Advisor

Megan Klein Hattori

Third Advisor

Kevin H. Wozniak


The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) includes children (anyone under 18) who are sexually exploited for commercial purposes in its definition of human trafficking victims. However, most states currently arrest and/or prosecute sex trafficked children for prostitution. From 2008 to 2017, six states neither arrested nor prosecuted sexually exploited children for prostitution; eight retained the right to arrest, but not prosecute minors for prostitution; and 36 states both arrested and prosecuted this population for prostitution. All 50 states passed their first human trafficking laws between 2003 and 2013. Washington passed the first in 2003 and Wyoming was the last state to pass a human trafficking law in 2013. All state human trafficking laws include a wide variation of provisions addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) across states, which continue to change as various states pass additional CSEC statutes each year. Despite this tension, little research has been conducted on the wide variation among state-level child sex trafficking statutes. Most research on sex trafficking legislation focuses on federal trafficker convictions. Therefore, studying state legislation is necessary to understand CSEC policy because local law enforcement and service providers interact with sexually exploited youth more often than federal officials and these state-level statutes often determine whether children are treated as criminals or victims. Additionally, states determine crime policy more often than the federal government due to the U.S. federalist system. This mixed methods study uses Event History Analysis and interviews with anti-criminalization advocates, state legislators, state legislative aides, and state prosecutors to examine social, economic, and political factors associated with legislative decisions prohibiting the arrest and/or prosecution of sexually exploited minors for prostitution. Statistical analyses suggest states with human trafficking task forces and mandated CSEC-specific services are more likely to pass partial or full non-criminalization legislation. In contrast, states with more people living in areas of concentrated disadvantage, more anti-CSEC NGOs, and lower prevalence of sex trafficking activity are more likely to criminalize this population. Qualitative results indicate participants universally describe non-criminalization legislative processes reflect the dynamics of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory. CSEC Survivor Advocates and state prosecutors as key influencers of CSEC policymaking and the presence of statewide human trafficking task forces and state-mandated social services in a state are key factors in passing non-criminalization legislation. State legislators and legislative aides also describe specific roles such as Judiciary Committee memberships as particularly influential within the state legislature. The theoretical implications of this study and policy recommendations for anti-criminalization advocates, CSEC stakeholders, and state legislators are also discussed.