Human trafficking problems have largely been framed by political elites and the media as a sexual crime involving innocent victims who are largely women and children. It is unclear how this framing impacts the public’s attitudes about the issue. Here, we ask what types of sex trafficking victim frames produce the strongest response among the American public and how does increased exposure and accurate knowledge about the issue moderate the impact of the victim frames?
To answer these questions, we utilize data from a unique nationally representative survey experiment fielded to 2,000 Americans in which we designed a 2 × 2 × 2 experiment manipulating the gender, age, and nationality of sex trafficking victims.
We find the age of the victim has the greatest impact on affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses to human trafficking, but that these victim frames are conditional on the amount of exposure a subject has had to the issue of human trafficking and the level of correct knowledge he or she possesses about human trafficking.
Victim framing in public discourse on sex trafficking does make a difference, and the reasons these frames elicit different responses are complex and moderated by respondents’ exposure to information and knowledge about the issue.