2021 Blog

Why language matters

Like most other girls on the team, I’m new to the anti-trafficking movement. I’ve been learning something new about sex trafficking what seems like every day; I learn new words, phrases, and laws through books, conversations, and google searches. We instinctively mirror our language to reflect what we consume. In turn, sometimes we’re the ones doing the teaching – and this is why the language that we use matters.

Language has the power to completely color a person’s view on something – while not always intentional, language can also be used to manipulate perspective. It’s constantly evolving, changing, improving – it can be hard to keep up with, but it’s important that we do. When talking about domestic minor sex trafficking, it can be easy to misrepresent a situation by accidentally using the wrong language.

Minors are never able to legally consent, however the term child prostitute suggests that they can. The term “commercially exploited child” more accurately represents the situation by shifting blame away from the child and onto the adults that exploited them.

It also emphasizes that minors cannot legally consent. Similarly, when talking about media that depicts sexually exploited children, using the term “child sexual abuse material” is a more accurate term than “child pornography” for the same reasons as above. Using gender-neutral and survivor-centered approach language is another way to be empowering and respectful. While the majority of survivors of sex trafficking are female, it’s important to remember that not everyone subscribes to heteronormative gender labels and that 7% of child sex trafficking reports made to NCMEC were boys.

While these changes may seem small, it’s important to remember that using correct language is the first step in accurately representing a situation and empowering survivors. It’s important that the media we’re consuming and dispersing is accurate because language can cause unconscious bias in people. We have the power to impact peoples’ perception on sex trafficking and choosing our words carefully is one thing that we can all do as members of the anti-trafficking movement.

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