The politics of commercial sexual exploitation of children
Houston, Taylor Martin
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The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) has become a growing topic of concern among the public and broader anti-trafficking movement. Previous research focused on the causes and consequences of CSEC, but less attention has been paid to the social movement working to address the issue. While the movement has brought together a diverse group of seemingly contradictory bedfellows (e.g. both feminists and Christian conservatives), it has experienced a series of successes and failures. Why has the anti-CSEC movement’s efforts not reached their potential? More broadly, how do intersecting inequalities, cultural ideologies, and public/private partnerships enable and constrain the movement’s goals, strategies, and mobilization efforts? To answer this question, I draw from 48 in-depth interviews, a year of participant observation with two social movement organizations with different ideological foundations (e.g. faith-based and secular), and content analysis of movement documents from the anti-CSEC movement in Georgia. My analysis assumes a synthetic approach drawing upon and integrating insights from several theoretical perspectives, including intersectionality, multi-institutional politics approach, organizational field theory, and dialogic analysis. I examine the intersecting social, economic, and political factors within Georgia spurring the movement and informing its interactions with the state. I then analyze the discursive tactics anti-CSEC organizations construct to create awareness, mobilize supporters, and advocate change, and explain how these strategies reproduced the very inequalities they were constructed to challenge. I also highlight the obstacles facing anti-CSEC organizations and discuss how these challenges are relational products of internal organizational dynamics and external institutional and cultural forces (i.e. economic, religious, criminal justice, and regional politics). Additionally, I examine the relationships between anti-CSEC organizations and the state. I show how public/private partnerships create opportunities and constraints, and identify how organizations cooperate and other times struggle with the state for control of the movement. Finally, I identify the structural, organizational, and individual level processes that led the anti-CSEC movement to be made up primarily of women. Broadly, I highlight how social (i.e. race, class, gender, sexuality) and cultural (i.e. religion, region) forces as well as public-private partnerships simultaneously create opportunities and constraints for collective action and public policy reform.