Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Miki Makihara

Subject Categories

Courts | Discourse and Text Linguistics | Jurisprudence | Linguistic Anthropology | State and Local Government Law


Discourse Analysis; Law; Semiotics; Ideology


Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs) have been operating in New York City in an effort to connect victims of human trafficking to treatment programs. Unfortunately, the net that the courts cast was too wide and people who did not identify as victims of human trafficking were coerced into treatment programs that they did not need or want. Through textual discourse analysis and ethnographic observation, this paper explores the contestation of victimhood in HTICs by focusing on the experiences of defendants and how they are perceived by the police, judges, and other agents of the HTICs. Before entering the HTICs, defendants are perceived as criminals as shown by the justification and criteria for their arrest by the police. In the HTICs, defendants are no longer perceived as criminals, instead they are perceived as victims through the Presupposition of Victimhood. Decriminalizing perceptions of people who did not identify as victims of human trafficking was a step in the right direction, however, more work still needs to be done in order to recognize the agency of sex workers who have been caught up in the HTICs. The way that identity is created and mediated within the HTICs shows how ambiguity, inscribed in the perception of defendants as victims, operates as a barrier to the acceptance of sex worker agency. Underlying this ambiguity is an ideology of Exceptionalism which places the HTICs as the uniquely equipped saviors of defendants in need of their intervention.