Media FAIL: The Lawrence Taylor Arrest and Human Trafficking Awareness

A week after Lawrence Taylor was arrested and charged with third-degree rape and solicitation of a 16-year-old prostitute, we know it’s possible the girl was told to lie about her age to the NFL Hall-of-Famer and say she was 19. We know she was picked up by her uncle with a black eye and other bruises. And we know that her pimp, Rasheed Davis, who has been accused of beating and drugging the girl before ordering her to have sex with Taylor at his hotel, was charged with sex trafficking of a minor. But as women’s issues writer Marcia G. Yerman points out in The Huffington Post, the media’s treatment of this story has done little to advance awareness of human trafficking.

It’s all in the framing: Rather than call Davis a sex trafficker, the press has mainly referred to him as the “girl’s pimp.” The girl herself has also been labeled a “teen hooker.” But third-degree rape, a felony in New York State, is applied to cases where the adult is over age 21 and the minor is under 17. And federal law classifies underage girls who are sold for sex as trafficking victims. So how come the media hasn’t emphasized that very term, victim?

Instead, the focus of this story has fallen on Taylor’s fluctuating celebrity and notoriety, with frequent mentions of his past drug use, his football legacy, and his stint on Dancing With the Stars. The latest news debates whether he and the trafficked teen actually had sex, and how this could affect his case in court. All the “important” stuff.

Lost in the hype is human trafficking as an issue in the United States. The “teen hooker” at the center of this story could have instead been labeled justly and connected to the larger picture of runaways who are targeted within hours by traffickers. The specific vulnerability of runaways and the coercive tactics used to lure them into prostitution could have been emphasized. And so much speculation into the life and times of the football hero could have been saved for gossip magazines.

The content of the news seems to be determined by both news suppliers and consumers, based on what sells, but should it be? Isn’t news media supposed to provide a public service? A celebrity’s involvement in a human trafficking case catches a whole lot more notice than the story of an average john, and it’s excellent opportunity to educate a mainstream audience. But disregarding the potential victim in this story and the larger social issue doesn’t change or productively inform the public’s perception of human trafficking, Unfortunate, because in the fight against human trafficking, the news media could — and should — be an important player.

Photo credit: tedkerwin



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