Human Sex Trafficking: A Thematic Analysis of New York Times Coverage


  • Kelsey Bishop


Probably shocking to many Americans, human sex trafficking is an active and growing industry that happens right at home in the United States. This paper seeks to understand how the American print media reports on the crime of human sex trafficking in published newspaper articles. Understanding how American culture showcases sex slavery in the print media is the first step toward understanding what information is available to the general public about this crime. This study looks at identifying the common themes of human sex trafficking from a national American newspaper, exposing a small-scale understanding of how the print media
represents modern-day slavery to the American public. A thematic analysis was used to uncover the emergent themes of 32 articles from the third highest circulated newspaper in the United States, the New York Times. Using this qualitative method, the first research question—which asked specifically what content the articles were expressing about human sex trafficking in the United States—uncovered three major themes with seven sub-themes. Agenda-setting theory served as the foundational theory to explain how the public interprets the voice of print media, how they adapt those opinions with their own, and why dependence on the news is crucial for issue awareness.