The Framing of Human Trafficking in the U.S. Print Media

Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 1 Jul 2010

Date Written: 2009


Since 2000, there has been a flurry of policy activity to address the problem of human trafficking. What makes these recent efforts especially intriguing is the wide consensus that has formed in the United States and most of the international community on the nature of the problem and the appropriate policy response even though there is considerable disagreement among scholars and activists over definitions of trafficking and how best to address the problem. None of the scholarship to this point has analyzed how the media have covered human trafficking, however, and whether the media have helped to legitimize the consensus among policymakers while marginalizing alternative views that also might be critical of official policy. To examine the U.S. media’s coverage of human trafficking, all relevant articles in The New York Times and Washington Post between 1980 and 2006 (N=605) were content analyzed for story trigger, country focus, issues cited, and sources used. The results of the content analysis largely correspond to theoretical expectations by showing that the coverage has relied mostly on official sources and framed in a way that has mirrored the dominant view of trafficking. Yet, the analysis also shows that articles initiated by journalists are more likely to break away from the official frame and report alternative views in their coverage of human trafficking than articles generated from traditional news beats.

Keywords: human trafficking; media; journalism; public policy; human rights; framing; indexing theory

Suggested Citation

Gulati, Girish, The Framing of Human Trafficking in the U.S. Print Media (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Girish Gulati (Contact Author)

Bentley University ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02145
United States

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