Christina Peebles

Effects of the Romanticization and Glorification of Sex Trafficking


A long history of the sex industry objectifying the female body for male pleasure continues to be widely prominent and relevant across the globe today. Annually, hundreds of thousands of America’s children and youth are being sexually exploited. This trafficking of humans dates back to the late 1800s when children were first prostituted in the United States. Since then, the industry has been exacerbated by globalization and the emergence of the internet as a major source of communication. While the increasing prominence of the media and internet allows for news to be easily shared, it also causes people to become desensitized to the harsh reality of the sex industry. Also, false news stories decrease the credibility of news articles and, as an effect, audiences are less inclined to believe news in general (Sobel). Furthermore, the media unintentionally romanticizes and glorifies sex trafficking through pop culture and online literature. Because of this, sex trafficking is not a topic being taught in schools nor being advocated against by a majority of the population. This allows for Texas laws to continue to criminalize trafficking victims while indirectly authorizing pimps and the industry as a whole to thrive and grow in its crimes. The glorification of pimp culture in the media and criminalization of trafficked victims in Texas laws has caused sex trafficking to be normalized, and even romanticized in society, instead of being shown as a critical issue.

Review of the Literature

Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is defined by Edward J. Schauer as the “sexual exploitation of American children, within the United States borders, for commercial purposes.” Furthermore, the term was actually coined by Shared Hope International (SHI) as a means of drawing attention to the commercial sexual exploitation of people under 18 years of age who are permanent residents of America (Schauer). According to statistics, Schauer describes how men between the ages of 20 and 65 make up the majority of people engaging in the sexual exploitation of minors. Furthermore, they define how the ages of victims of DMST range from 12 to 18 years old. This is due to society’s obsession with the sexualization and exploitation of minors. Schauer further states how juvenile prostitution and child pornography are both examples of the sexual exploitation of children. The term ‘pornography’ is used to refer to anything that is “designed to encourage sexual arousal without emotional attachment” and can be considered, in a psychoanalytic context, to be a perverted, sublimated form of love (“Sex”).

Generally, sex traffickers of domestic minors are known as pimps, people who derive profit, monetary or not, in trade for the sexual exploitation of a minor by their customers (Schauer). According to Andrea J. Nichols, the word originated back in the 1600s to define an individual who coordinated the sale of sex for his own profit. Shared Hope International claims that almost all prostituted minors have pimps who profit from and manage them (Schauer). Pimps also perceive the sex economy as a low-risk enterprise with a high-reward through reported “incomes from $5,000 to $32,833 a week” (Withers). In the sex industry, modes of exploitation and oppression by pimps typically involve acts of abuse, degradation, and violence against women (“Sex”). This usually involves young people – mostly women – who have left home, after having been abused as a child, and are addicted to drugs (“Sex”). This hard life and background often lead women to the romanticized idea that pimps can save them from their past, which causes them to eventually end up in the violent control of a pimp. This is exemplified by Meghan Casserly’s interview with Rachel Lloyd that directly brings to light the glorification of pimping done by favorite rappers that serve to romanticize pimps for thirteen-year-old girls with how they can be “cute and handsome” men who “pay attention.” In pop culture, the word pimp means “really cool” with achieving a high level of success (Nichols). Overall, Nichols states how the word signifies images of wealth, power, and respect through the management of girls and women who sell sex for profit. However, Nichols takes notice of how these definitions distort, ignore, and glorify the harsh reality of what pimping truly entails for women, men, and children.

Casserly emphasizes the stigma around the term “prostitute” to describe girls in the commercial sex industry. Instead of addressing the harsh issue of women and children being trafficked, the term “prostitute” brings to the mind the image of a “girl on the street, [in] high heels, stockings, the works” and the idea of consensual prostitution (Casserly). Alexis A. Aronowitz states how using the term “prostitute tourism” to label sex tourism actually softens and narrows down the harsh, wide impact of sex tourism and the sex trade. The biggest misconception of sex trafficking, according to Casserly, is that it is a victimless, harmless crime with women who are “too lazy to get a job at McDonald’s” or “like having sex all the time.” In reality, the vast majority of trafficked girls come from homes of sexual and physical abuse, trauma, and domestic violence (Casserly). Furthermore, Aronowitz takes a look at the controversial view of prostitutes. She describes how radical feminists view prostitutes as oppressed sexual victims, while some liberals view them as empowered sexual actors. Aronowitz emphasizes how a distinction must be drawn between sex trafficking – which involves non-consenting adults and children – and prostitution, which involves consenting adults and the sex trades.

Despite hiring its first director of human trafficking prevention in the Department of Family and Protective Services and providing $4.4 million to combat sex trafficking in Harris County, Katie Watson found how Texas laws continue to fail to rightfully address sex trafficking. A report from The Schapiro Group found that approximately 188 girls under the age of 18 are sexually exploited through internet classified sex ads on a typical weekend night in Texas (“Texas”). Still laws in Texas continue to “permit the promotion and selling of child sex tourism” and “permit traffickers to build a defense around a minor’s willingness to engage in the commercial sex act” (Watson). Texas also “does not require delinquent child sex trafficking victims to participate in the governor’s care coordination program to avoid adjudication,” but Texas laws can prevent “child sex trafficking victims from receiving crime victims’ compensation money if they committed an offense related to trafficking victimization” (Watson).


            Trafficked women in Texas are stigmatized as prostitutes and therefore are taken less seriously politically and socially. Also, trafficking is not seen as an issue despite the large, uncountable numbers of trafficked victims in the city of Houston alone because of how pimp culture is glorified and victims are stereotyped as consenting prostitutes. The life of being taken and cared for by a pimp can be dreamed for by vulnerable girls and women who have a history of abuse and drug usage with how many fictional romance books romanticize the sex trafficking industry. Without proper restrictions in Texas laws, both the glorification of pimp culture and romanticization of sex trafficking causes the industry to continuously grow and prosper.

Romanticization of Sex Trafficking

On online literature websites, millions of young, female readers are obsessing over the idea of falling in love with a tall, dark, and handsome man with a troubled past who popularly stars as a protagonist of fictional stories. Dark themes of these characters kidnapping young girls and using them as sex slaves are romanticized and a popular trend on the website Wattpad. Wattpad is a social networking website and app for readers and writers to share, discover, comment on, and vote on user-generated stories. Co-founded by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, the website is based in Toronto, Canada with a monthly audience of over 65 million readers with over 400 million stories already uploaded and easily accessible. Over 70 percent of the users are female and 80 percent are Millennials or Generation Z (Anderson). With these demographics, it is surprising to find how dark the content can be. For example, when searching the tag “sold,” over 116,000 stories surfaced with thousands of views and many include being sold to a gang leader in some form. Titles included “The Abused Girl,” “Sold to the Gang Leader,” and “Abducted.” The most searched tags in romance include negative terms such as “badboy,” “heartbreak,” “love-hate,” “mafia,” and “revenge.” Many of these stories are written by teenage girls intended for an audience of other teenage girls. To a greater extent, a common theme in fanfiction about famous musicians found to have the young female protagonist be kidnapped by them and used for sex. For example, a Wattpad story titled “Kidnapped, By One Direction” was found to have 9.9 million reads and was written by a girl in her teenage years for other young girls to read. With such a large audience of young, female readers, these innocently written stories sparks a trend of romanticizing sex trafficking.

Another story titled “Sold. To Justin Bieber,” written by user TheSwaggyBieber06, has around 99,000 reads and approximately 1,450 votes as of May 2018. It tells a short story about a girl, Skylar, who is left vulnerable in Canada after moving with her family from the United States. She ends up getting kidnapped and sex trafficked later when going alone to a party. The sixth chapter immaturely describes Skylar’s experience of preparing to be auctioned off throughout her narration:

They walked me downstairs and into a room. As we went by there was a lot of other girls in cuffs or tied with rope to different things. They all looked as scared as I did. They led me into a room. “Melanie we have someone for you to fix for an auction” “Oh okay, what’s her name” she asked. Melanie had a lot of makeup and other things to ‘beautify’ someone. “That’s not important” a guy said. “Okay well if you wanna come over here and lay on the table” she said to me “Um no, I’m not lying on the table” I hissed. “Oh right, forgot to tell you, she’s a stubborn one.” Mason said “Well how about you sit in the chair?” She said “Fine” I said. I figured sitting in the chair would be better cause I could see what’s going on. “So what is your name” she asked sweetly. “Skylar” I said. “Skylar? That’s a nice name” she said. “Thanks” is all I mumbled. “So what is this whole auction thing?” I asked. “Well. Basically the guys that you saw, there gonna take you to this place where anybody can basically buy you, and do what they please with you. Basically it’s all for money” she explained. “Well what is this for” I said pointing to the makeup and clothes. “It makes the sales go faster because people bid higher amounts” She said hesitating. (TheSwaggyBieber06)

The author briefly describes a scene of a downstairs level of a building where many girls, assumingly other trafficking victims, laid scared and tied up. The protagonist passes by them to a private room to be dressed up to prepare for an auction where she is to be sold for money. According to Melanie, the clothing and makeup she wears are directly related to the amounts people will bid for her. Through a lack of proofreading with missing and incorrect use of punctuation and the wrong usage of “there” instead of “they’re,” it is clear that the author is a more immature writer. It is also noteworthy how the author never directly uses the phrase “sex trafficking” throughout the excerpt and in the story as a whole despite similar descriptions to the industry. This leads to an unknown understanding of whether it was the author’s intention to write a fictional story about trafficking or if they are even educated on the topic at all. With the immense popularity of stories on Wattpad where female protagonists are sold to a dominant male character, it is a strong possibility that the author was merely just following the trend. However, the lack of maturity when writing about the serious issue of sex trafficking causes the author, whether intentional or not, to seem like they are ridiculing and demeaning the harsh reality of what trafficked victims have actually gone and currently are going through.

Later in the chapter, Skylar is sold at the auction to the winning bid of $700,000 by Justin Bieber. When first seeing him, her initial remark was that “he was really cute, specially [sic] for someone who just bought me.” This statement is not only an unrealistic response to such a horrific event but further reveals how the sex trafficking industry is romanticized to the point where teenage Wattpad authors are disturbingly characterizing pimps as well-known, famous idols who are loved by many. Justin Bieber has a large, devoted fanbase titled the “beliebers” who love and view him as a role model. With this illustration of him as a sex trafficker, the author further romanticizes pimps and their actions by equivalating them to be seen as role models. Furthermore, the author demeans the experiences of trafficking victims in chapter 7 when Bieber states “how can she still want to go home? I’ve been nothing but nice to her. She is selfish, that’s her problem. She is ungrateful, I’m being nice to her. I mean I’m feeding her, giving her a place to stay, and I’m trying to make friends with her.” His confusion directly correlates to the popular idea and misconception that pimps are merely helping women in need. Not only does this mindset wrongfully victimize sex traffickers, but it leads to the criminalization of victims themselves.

This romanticization of sex trafficking by teenage, female authors on Wattpad both reveals the lack of education in Texas schools concerning the topic and parallels how Texan laws criminalize underage trafficking victims. Children in Texas are not being taught about the seriousness and large-scale problem of sex trafficking in the state. Instead, they are writing and reading romantic stories of sex trafficking without restriction, so they then grow up desiring the care and love they think a pimp can provide. Therefore, the industry is not being widely advocated against by the younger generations, allowing both for sex trafficking to thrive and current Texas laws to continue to wrongfully criminalize trafficked children for selling underage sex instead punishing the people truly at fault.

Glorification of Pimp Culture

Pimp culture has been normalized and glorified by the media to the point that the term “pimp” has become part of common, everyday slang and language. Music videos play a large role in desensitizing the public to the sex trafficking industry by normalizing the act of stripping for girls. It is a common joke for girls and women to laugh about dropping out of school to become a stripper because of how the media glorifies the act of prostitution with its large revenue. Jasmine Johnson, a caught pimp who led a group of eight women in the city of Dallas, stated that she was drawn to pimping because she was “in love” with how the “money was good” (Walters). The opportunity to be rich is what draws many young girls and boys to the trafficking industry. Children and teenagers see pimps as cool and aspire to be like them while young girls view them as handsome men who will cherish and protect them. Common usage of the word “pimp” in language today further normalizes and glorifies sex traffickers with phrases, such as “you are such a pimp” and “that’s so pimp,” that are synonymous to wealth, power, and respect. Furthermore, many books positively use the word in their titles despite not having anything to do with actual pimps themselves – such as Pimp Your Finances: Get out of Bad Debt and Money Wisely by Ken McLinton (Otranto). This normalization of pimp culture plays a large role in desensitizing society to the disgusting role sex traffickers play in selling women.

In the media, controversy in the anti-trafficking movement arose when rap musician Necro published a violent song in 2010 titled “Sex Traffic King” (Hughes). Necro’s music carries a pimp theme to it with his album covers picturing himself in classic, stereotypical pimp attire. His disturbing lyrics and emphasize on violence against women in his songs were brought to the attention of anti-trafficking activists, specifically the Barnaba Institute, who launched an online petition to prohibit this song from being played (Hughes). Necro responded that he does not support human trafficking despite making a toast to white slavery in his other songs (Hughes). Lyrics of the song include “not even immigration knows where your place is, you’re faceless from the streets of the Czech Republic to being checked into a snuff flick, snatched in public, a piece of snatch, a good catch” and “you’re flipping like a mouse in a trap, you can’t get out, you’ve been caught, you’ve been bought, you’re an import, your existence is unimportant, no one will report you missing.” While he is protected under his right to freedom of speech, his disturbing lyrics demean trafficked victims and normalizes the sex trafficking industry for young age groups who are not educated both on what his lyrics mean and sex trafficking truly entails. Glorifying the act of pimping for young children creates one of the biggest challenges to ending sex trafficking both nationally and in the state of Texas.

Sex Trafficking and Effects in Texas

Despite making preventive measures against sex trafficking, Texas continues to criminalize a child for prostitution offenses by penalizing them for having paid sex. Moreover, the Texas Family Code can actually be utilized to define pimps as essentially the legal caregivers of trafficked minors if they provide them shelter, food, and clothing (Becker). With young girls at the mercy of prosecution, pimps use this law to their advantage by forcing them to carry out crimes. This causes an uneven distribution of criminality. Julietta Hua brings to light the questions “how are we being oriented to see victimhood in one situation but not another?” and “how do we come to see some issues as human rights concerns worthy of attention and intervention and not others?” Furthermore, how should Texas determine the legibility of sex trafficking victimization? The cultural narrative defines and affects what makes a person a victim of sex trafficking. Yet, this same culture is affected and controlled by the existing romanticized and glorified pimp culture in Texas. Teenagers are the most vulnerable to being trafficked and yet are not being educated and made aware of the issue in schools. Moreover, teenagers are made even more vulnerable to trafficking operations with the increased usage of social media, for sex traffickers can easily facilitate their crimes in and around schools through text messaging (“Recognizing”). A common misconception is that sex trafficking only occurs in “city streets and dark motel rooms,” but traffickers can actually be found in schools and playgrounds (“Recognizing”). With children being the most vulnerable to being trafficked and desensitized, Texas should do more to raise education on the problem in order to change the cultural narrative that affects how sex trafficking victims are defined by the law.

Due to the romanticization, glorification, and lack of education of sex trafficking, teenagers in Texas easily can fall prey to pimps and then be penalized for it by Texas laws. Additionally, the Texas Family Code places responsibility onto child prostitutes for their sexual acts despite not even properly educating them in the first place. This flaw in Texas legislature facilitates the promotion of sex trafficking by allowing pimps to emotionally manipulate their victims by persuading them that the law cannot protect them and they will be penalized for the criminal acts that the pimps force them to do. By seeing pimps as not doing anything wrong, Texas laws further devalue sex trafficking victims. This, in addition to the problem of romanticizing and glorifying pimp culture, further distances Texas from solving and ending the sex trafficking industry.


Because of the lack of awareness and education, children are growing up believing that sex traffickers are “cute” and “cool.” This mindset demeans the sickening experiences of sex trafficking victims and causes the industry to continue to thrive. Furthermore, the romanticization of sex trafficking and glorification of pimp culture causes society to be desensitized to the horrifying, growing problem of trafficking both globally and in Texas. This normalization causes people to not consider it a problem, therefore causing a lack of advocation and change. Creating better and accessible education on trafficking in schools is vital for increasing awareness of the issue to the younger generations who are most at risk of being trafficked. Through the hanging of posters and providing presentations, the problem becomes more visible. Also, resources – such as pamphlets and brochures – on how to attain help and guidance for trafficking victims should be shared and easily accessible to the youth. Through these learning materials, more emphasis should be placed on how the term “pimp” is not synonymous to “cool” in order to help decrease the normalization and glorification of pimp culture. A short lesson could be done in English classes that specifically examines and teaches the true meanings of misused words, like “pimp,” as an effort to further raise awareness. Society is at fault for allowing sex trafficking to occur because of how the industry is romanticized and glorified by all. But by increasing awareness and education, normalization of trafficking will eventually end and be seen as the sickening issue it truly is.



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