First Advisor

Stéphanie Wahab

Date of Publication

Summer 7-20-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research


Sex crimes -- Study and teaching -- United States, Social work education -- United States, Feminism, Prostitution, Human trafficking, Imprisonment



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 259 pages)


This study uses anti-carceral feminist logic to explore the cultural meanings, criminal implications, and neoliberal influence that shape the landscape of social work education about the sex trades in the United States and transnationally. "What are social work instructors teaching students about the sex trades in coursework?" is the question that directs the study, which uses a feminist qualitative methodology inclusive of intersectional feminist epistemology as well as direct content analysis. To answer this question, I analyzed 20 social work course syllabi from sex trade related courses across the contiguous United States and interviewed 20 social work instructors from 14 different states.

Study findings show that course content represents people in the sex trades primarily as victimized cisgender women and girls with a significant focus on sex trafficking, especially within the Global South. While there is some course content that portrays sex trade workers as having complex and autonomous experiences, this material is limited to courses that have "sex" or "sexuality" in the title (i.e. "sex trafficking" or "sexuality and social work" courses). Furthermore, course content that represents the intersectional experiences and impact of systemic violence encountered by trans women of color and LGBTQ+ people is underrepresented in the sample--confined to two course syllabi and visibly absent from remaining syllabi. The sample indicates the prevalence of carceral approaches to the sex trades with an unexamined and racially-biased emphasis upon rescue and/or incarceration. This project provides significant implications for social work education about the necessity of an anti-carceral feminist, intersectional, and consequently, an anti-oppressive approach to teaching about the sex trades.

Persistent Identifier