Decriminalizing Victims of Sex Trafficking

24 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2014 Last revised: 10 Apr 2015

Date Written: 2014


Despite the United States’ commitment to decriminalizing victims of sex trafficking and the obvious injustice of subjecting these victims to criminal penalties, the majority of jurisdictions throughout the U.S. continue to treat sex trafficking victims as criminals. This paper argues that the criminal law must abandon this practice. Part one presents a brief account of definitional and conceptual debates regarding what counts as sex trafficking. Part two explains why we must decriminalize victims of sex trafficking. Part three outlines four methods of decriminalizing sex trafficking victims, and defends what has come to be known as the “Nordic model” as the most effective means of achieving this decriminalization.

Keywords: Sex Trafficking, Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Criminalization, Abolitionism, Nordic Model, Justifications of Punishment, Palermo Protocol

Suggested Citation

Dempsey, Michelle Madden, Decriminalizing Victims of Sex Trafficking (2014). American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 52:207, 2015, Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2014-1015, Available at SSRN: or

Michelle Madden Dempsey (Contact Author)

Villanova University School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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