Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Tara Deubel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jill McCracken, Ph.D.


Consensual Sex Work, Deservingness, Performance Ethnography, Sex Trafficking, Victim Identification


By working with an anti-human trafficking organization in Sarasota, Florida, and sex-worker activists based in St. Petersburg, Florida, this research focuses on the process by which trafficking victims and sex workers are identified and dealt with by the criminal justice system and NGO rehabilitation programs. The study focused on understanding how stakeholders decide between identifying someone as a criminal or a victim of sex trafficking and how women identify themselves and subjectively experience their interaction with the criminal justice system and a faith-based rehabilitation program. By exploring the victims’ process of going through the criminal justice system, this study problematizes the ideas of victim certification, diversion programming, and the idea that sex work is inherently exploitative and never agentive. Due to anti-prostitution laws in the United States (US), the lack of trauma-informed care within the criminal justice system, and the stigma surrounding sex work that stems from dominant American culture, sex workers and trafficking victims are often further harmed when they become involved with the criminal justice system. My findings reveal narratives produced around the “innocent victim” perpetuate an image of human trafficking that focuses on White women and children in forced prostitution. This image contributes to constructions of ‘deservingness’ for different populations involved in exchanging sex and alters whether or not individuals are identified as victims of sex trafficking depending on their adherence to this narrative. Common narratives surrounding trafficking can also harm sex workers who want to be recognized as agentive adults in the sex industry. I present the multiple realities that exist in the criminal/legal systems surrounding sex trafficking and consensual sex work in Florida and how participants perceive their treatment by various organizations such as law enforcement, the court system, diversion programs, and NGOs by conducting interview analysis, participant observation, and performance ethnography through the production of a fictionalized scene written with research participants and stakeholders.