Newsroom stylebooks and media law guides may offer guidance on when to use loaded terms like “accused,” “arrest” and “indict,” but tips on language for sex trafficking are less clear. Here are some terms that may be helpful:
Child prostitute- Never use. Children under the age of 18 cannot consent to a commercial sex act, as outlined by a series of laws on trafficking: The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts of 2003, 2005 and 2008. Therefore, "child prostitute" is a misnomer and should not be used.
Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States- A 5-year plan for 2013-2017, involving more than 15 agencies. The strategic action plan aims to combat human trafficking and set a path for stronger services for victims of trafficking, using collaboration across government and NGOs.
Innocence Lost National Initiative- In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative to address the sex trafficking of minors. The initiative works with federal, state and local law enforcements and U.S. Attorney offices to create task forces to address the sex trafficking of minors, recover children and convict traffickers. NCMEC offers assistance in identifying and recovering child victims of trafficking to law enforcement.
Johns- A term used for a man that exchanges money or something of value for the services of a sexual act. Also “buyers.”
Pimp/madam vs. trafficker- The person who recruits, controls, transports or harbors the victim. "Pimp" is a problematic term, sometimes glorified by the people who perpetrate the crimes, and the term can also desensitize readers to the effects of trafficking. Use "trafficker" to emphasize the magnitude of the crime.
Safe harbor laws- Safe harbor laws protect child victims of sex trafficking from being criminalized, disciplined and punished under prostitution laws. Safe harbor laws identify sexually exploited youth as victims of abuse, provide specialized services for their recovery and rehabilitation, decriminalize prostitution for minors and implement harsher prosecution traffickers (often called "pimps") and johns. In 2013, 12 states had fully implemented safe harbor laws including New Jersey and New York; six states passed laws that provided either services for the child or immunity from prosecution under prostitution laws, but not both; and four states passed laws that provided partial safe harbor protection for minors.
Sex trafficking- Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which a commercial sex act is forced, coerced or conducted through fraud. Forcing, coercing or using fraud to commit commercial sex acts include, but are not limited to: a trafficker threatening or using any type of abuse on a victim, threats to either the victim or their family, confiscation of identification documents, forced dependency on the controller, persuasion that there is no help for the victim and threats of deportation when the victim is not an American citizen. Human trafficking includes sex trafficking and the exploitation of people for other types of labor.
Survivor vs. victim- Victims and survivors are those who have suffered the exploitation of sex trafficking. Sources may prefer the term survivor because of how the word implies strength, agency and recovery. It can be necessary to use victim when speaking with law enforcement.
Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP)- An annual report published by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks governments according to three tiers of effort to combat human trafficking. It is an important tool to open conversation with foreign governments about anti-trafficking initiatives. Also helpful: TIP’s Definitions and Methodology.
- Judicial Language Project’s suggestions for appropriate terms to use during sexual assault cases.
- Nonprofit organization Shared Hope International offers this round up of key terms.
- Ryan Beck Turner, Associate Director of Advocacy at the Human Trafficking Center offers this guide to “How Not to Talk About Human Trafficking.”
- The Irina Project at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism & Mass Communication monitors media coverage of sex trafficking. Check Facebook and follow them on Twitter to receive their tips.