A Critical Race Feminist Perspective on Prostitution & Sex Trafficking in America

45 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2015 Last revised: 3 Sep 2015

See all articles by Cheryl Nelson-Butler

Cheryl Nelson-Butler

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2015


This Article is one of the first to apply critical race feminism (CRF) to explore prostitution and sex trafficking in the United States. Several scholars have applied critical race feminism to explore several forms of sexual exploitation, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape, but have yet to extend this discourse into the debate on prostitution and sex trafficking. Legal scholars have addressed prostitution and sex trafficking as gender oppression, while others have acknowledged the role of race in prostitution and trafficking in America. But few have considered prostitution from a critical race perspective, i.e., one that considers how race and gender intersect with other systems of oppression together to marginalize people of color in America. This Article applies critical race feminist theory to argue that racism intersects with other forms of structural oppression to obscure choice for people of color in America’s prostitution industry. America’s commercial sex industry perpetuates structural race, gender, and class-based inequalities. Racism and structural oppression trap a disproportionate number of women of color and girls of color into prostitution. Racism coerces women of color to engage in prostitution and obscures their consent. A critical race feminist lens informs our understanding of how traditional feminist discourse about prostitution has not fully considered the role of race, structural racism, and intersectional oppression in both the scholarly and policy discourse on prostitution. In contrast to dominant feminist narratives about prostitution, a critical race feminist perspective calls upon scholars and policymakers to focus on the role of racism and structural state sanctioned factors that push marginalized people of color into prostitution.

Suggested Citation

Nelson-Butler, Cheryl, A Critical Race Feminist Perspective on Prostitution & Sex Trafficking in America (June 1, 2015). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2015, SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 174, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2642976

Cheryl Nelson-Butler (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States
2147682598 (Phone)
2147683142 (Fax)

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