The Effects of Language Utilized by Traffickers and Traffickees

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There are two aspects of language to address regarding Human Trafficking: the language used by pimps to both recruit and refer to their practice of trafficking and the language used to refer to those who have endured through said practice.

In the world of human trafficking, traffickers have a large array of slang terms with which to refer to their victims and the practices they employ them to perform.  More often than not, the language used is both degrading and dehumanizing to their victims, which certainly affect the victim’s view of themselves. For example, as one source indicates, one common term utilized by pimps is “seasoning,” which is defined as “ a combination of psychological manipulation, intimidation, gang rape, sodomy, beatings, deprivation of food or sleep, isolation from friends or family and other sources of support, and threatening or holding hostage of a victim’s children. Seasoning is designed to break down a victim’s resistance and ensure compliance.” Now this practice and term, one of them many utilized and perpetrated by human traffickers, most certainly is not a pleasant experience for anyone, which leads us to think: How would one feel if one endured such a horrid situation?

People who experience this horrid practice after often traumatized for life, and therefore are very sensitive to specific language. As a site from the Office of Justice reports, a victim-centered approach to recovery is necessary and “seeks to minimize retraumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing the support of victim advocates and service providers, empowering survivors as engaged participants in the process, and providing survivors an opportunity to play a role in seeing their traffickers brought to justice.” This approach sounds compelling, doesn’t it? Listen to the language employed to refer to those who have lived through human trafficking.  The term “survivor” is employed over the term “victim.”

Why is this significant? Victim is a more legal term which focuses more on the actions that these people have endured.  This abused centered term causes more grief and pain for those who have endured it by constantly reminding them on their past. The term survivor, on the other hand, puts a more positive light on a dark situation, choosing rather to focus on the strength and willpower necessary to overcome this victimization.

The Human Trafficking Center agrees, emphasizing that it is of the utmost importance to avoid sexualization or sensationalization of victims or their stories.  By describing or revealing graphic content, does it really aid in ending the problem?  The answer is no, so why expose survivors to such painful reminders of their past exploitation?  When publishing or sharing a survivor’s story, consent of the details and format must be received from the person.  The intent of doing so should be to raise awareness and concern, not to shock people into action, which has harmful ramifications including learned misconceptions and inflamed trauma for survivors.

In conclusion, we must be cognizant of the fact that those who have endured human trafficking have done so through highly degrading and emotionally damaging language, among many other factors.  As a result, we should be very vigilant and considerate about what language we use to refer to victims…no, survivors, of human trafficking in order to be fully respectful of the experiences they have endured and prevent further contribution to their trauma.

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