“Narrative and Sexual Consent: Compulsory Prostitution in Progressive era New York City”

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Abstract:
This paper analyzes testimony about forced prostitution voiced in New York City’s Court of General Sessions from 1908 to 1915. During these years, the problem of coercive prostitution – commonly called”white slavery”– received an unprecedented amount of attention from journalists, politicians, and anti-vice activists. Drawing from verbatim trial transcripts of 31 compulsory prostitution trials, our research explores the cultural and legal fabric used to represent and evaluate sexual consent. We argue that legal facts are created through a quadripartite storytelling process where judges and jurors play a constitutive role in how the defense and prosecution create their trial narratives. Through an analysis of story framing in compulsory prostitution cases, we contend that the white slavery narrative served as a cultural resource for legal actors to understand and articulate arguments about commercial sex.

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