The public’s judgment of sex trafficked women: Blaming the victim?

Richard L. Wiener, Megan C. Berry, Julie Wertheimer, Taylor Petty, Jasmine Martinez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

A victim-centered approach to fighting sex trafficking can result in apprehension and prosecution of traffickers and offer needed services to survivors. However, law enforcement officers frequently arrest sex-trafficking survivors for prostitution in accordance with state law. This study examined the psychology of public reactions and judgments of sex-trafficking survivors demonstrating the importance of situational factors, cognitive stereotypes, and moral emotions. Using Stereotype Content Modeling to measure the stereotypes that 762 community members held about prostitutes, we found shared stereotypes that were low in competence (i.e., capable and skilled) and warmth (i.e., good-natured and friendly). These participants later read modified case facts from United States v. Bell (United States v. Bell, 761 F.3d (8th Cir. 2014)) that varied survivor history of prostitution, vulnerability, and prostitution as a subsequent livelihood. Participants who stereotyped prostitutes as low in warmth and competence were the ones most certain police should arrest the survivor. Moral emotion analyses further showed that a survivor with no prior prostitution history and who came from a nonvulnerable background invoked disgust and contempt, which predicted a higher certainty of the arrest. Moral emotions fully mediated the relationship between the interacting case facts and arrest certainty for the trafficking survivor. Future directions and policy implications are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) <strong xmlns:lang="en">Public Significance Statement—Participants who stereotyped prostitutes as low in warmth and competence were more certain police should arrest the survivor of sex trafficking for violating prostitution laws as were those who read about a survivor with no prior prostitution history and who came from a nonvulnerable background, in part, as a result of the disgust and contempt which people felt toward the survivor. The results suggest that efforts to educate the public about victim-centered approaches to sex trafficking could lead to healthier outcomes for the survivors as well as more effective prosecution of traffickers. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • decision-making
  • emotions
  • sex-trafficking
  • stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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