Juvenile Sex Trafficking and Hawai'i Public Policy: Examining the Policy Image of Juveniles Involved with Commercial Sexual Activity in Hawai'i.

Marshall, Sarah M.
Social Welfare
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Juvenile sex trafficking is a grave social problem that involves the commercial sexual exploitation of children. At the beginning of 2016, Hawai‘i ranked among the states with the least amount of protective legislation for juvenile sex trafficking victims. A potential factor contributing to this state-level response was the way in which the issue was discussed and framed within Hawai‘i’s public communications. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the policy image created within the communication frames used by policy elite actors in Hawai‘i. This study drew data from two distinct sources: Hawai‘i’s major newspapers (n = 102 articles) and written testimony submitted to the Hawai‘i State Legislature (n = 399 testimony). A mixed methods content analysis was utilized to analyze the data. Analysis was guided by framing theory and was based upon Entman’s four-part typology: problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and policy recommendation. Specific attention was paid to the use of episodic and thematic frames. Within the newspaper article data set, the overall policy image of juveniles was a variable one. Most often an image of juveniles as victims of sexual exploitation was used (45%), although in almost a quarter of the articles (22%) juveniles were clearly portrayed as criminals, and in a third of the articles (33%) juveniles were portrayed as both criminals and victims. Within the legislative testimony data set, the overall policy image of juveniles involved with commercial sexual activity was unmistakably an image of juveniles as victims of sexual exploitation (90%). A gradual shift in the policy image of commercially sexually involved juveniles is emerging within Hawai‘i’s public communications. Juveniles are increasingly being framed as victims of sexual exploitation rather than as criminals offending society. A key conceptual change necessary for disrupting exploitation and addressing juvenile need is to view juveniles as victims deserving of social aid rather than as criminals undeserving of social aid. The trend that is emerging in Hawai‘i’s major newspapers and in State legislative records seems to indicate that this key conceptual change is occurring within the communication frames used by Hawai‘i’s policy elite actors.
prostitution survivorship, social work, content analysis, framing theory codebook, policy elite theory, Hawai`i public communications
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