Archive for the ‘class justice’ Category

Language Matters

October 31, 2015

Any valid points “allies” to trafficking/prostitution survivors otherwise make in articles like this one in Huffington Post, are fully negated by calling crime victims (trafficking survivors) “prostitutes.”

How we are labeled and named determines how we are treated by everybody else—for the rest of our lives. Because what was done TO us was used to define us and STILL is many years later, even into our 40’s and 50’s (if we live that long and have not died from unrelieved abject poverty and total social neglect in a country where the middle class/rich refuse to provide any real, decent non-discriminatory and uniform social safety net for the unemployable/jobless poor whom no one will hire)

Over 75% of the adults in prostitution were initially trafficked into it as minor children between the ages of 11-14, which means they are trafficking victims—victims of a crime. No magical Choice Fairy pays you a visit on your 18th birthday after you’ve been trafficked into prostitution since age 12 or 13, and gifts you with all the options and access to opportunity that middle class privileged NON-trafficked people get.

in 44 states here in the US, 12, 13, and 14 yr old trafficked girls are still arrested for prostitution, and that automatically slaps a 99-year “sex offender” status on them, rendering them unemployable for life. In other words, a 14 yr old trafficked child arrested for prostitution won’t be able to pass the background checks and be able to get a job, rent an apartment or even get food stamps (in many states) if she manages to exit and get any education or build any “in-demand” marketable skills in order to make herself “worthy” of a chance for a job. (Gee, ask me how I know this.)

In other words, in most states in the US, that 14 yr old trafficking victim won’t be able to get even a minimum wage job at McDonalds until she reaches the age of 113 years old—if she lives that long.

Which is a joke, considering that plenty of unemployed, NON-trafficked/prostituted women over age 40 with years of work experience and employment references to put on their resumes can’t get jobs because no one will hire them due to age discrimination.

So what chance does a poor marginalized 48 yr old woman who’s a trafficking survivor have after she was unable to get ANY job at all when she was younger due to her un-expunged/vacated prostitution record? The US only pays lip service to helping poor trafficking survivors.

When you refer to an adult trapped in prostitution, operating under the control of brutal pimps/trafficking rings, who initially got trafficked into prostitution as a homeless 12 or 13 year-old child, as a “prostitute”, that very damning and deeply stigmatizing label harms ALL the victims/survivors, everywhere.

It perpetuates oppression through the imposing of “middle class values” and top-down paternalism. And it puts the onus of responsibility for abject poverty on the individual poor marginalized woman instead of addressing the systemic and structural causes. (And let’s be honest here: Middle class/rich women can be victims of incest and have drug addiction issues, but they’re not usually trafficked into prostitution as a result.)

Especially in countries like the US where 12 yr old trafficking victims get arrested for prostitution and that prostitution arrest record results in them getting slapped with a 99-year “sex offender” status which renders them unemployable for life—IF they can ever manage to escape their trafficking situation alive (as opposed to leaving “the life” in a body bag only to lay unclaimed in some morgue).

The language used to describe us, whether in front of us or even when you think we’re “not in the room”, dictates what kind of helping hand up we get to rebuild our lives (if we get ANY help at all, since the majority of American trafficking victims in the US don’t get anything while all these anti-trafficking charities are making bank off of this trendy ’cause’).

For far too long, the voices of poor women and girls who always were traffickers’ and johns’ primary targets, have been ignored and once again, our voices are being shoved aside in this ‘movement’ for some long overdue justice for us.

Too often, poor women and kids who are trafficked are pathologized. As in, “there was/is something wrong with us.” And it was the very damning label of “prostitute” that caused that.

I was a human sex trafficking survivor DECADES before the term “human trafficking” became part of the public lexicon. The human sex trafficking of poor, disposable women and children was always a problem in the US and across much of the world, even during the “better” economic times.

But abusive social and economic policies (like Welfare Reform here in the US) caused it to reach a crisis level because NOBODY ever gave poor, marginalized women a fair shot in life. Instead, they blamed the poor for being poor and refused to take any responsibility for unequal opportunities and lack of enough jobs for all. Why? To preserve their own privileges and status by eagerly serving as “gatekeepers” to economic opportunity.

Fact: Human trafficking was not made an issue and concern for trafficking victims was non-existent until: (1) it started happening to middle class women and girls, and; (2) upper-middle class white Christian males were able to monetize this ’cause’ via Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” which he signed into law by Executive Order #13199 on Jan 29, 2001.

What that did was redirect any public tax dollars earmarked for “welfare” to private “faith-based” charities instead of giving that money directly to the poor who need it.

Being a trafficking survivor who gets referred to as a “prostitute” and who sees other victims of human trafficking labeled as “prostitutes” reinforces the message from society that I don’t deserve a chance for a good job, a chance at love, the experience of being treated like a princess (even if only for ONE night—like the prom I never got to have since traffickers don’t let their victims go to school, never mind go to the senior prom), to be treated like I mattered, to be wanted and to be socially accepted.

Calling women like me “prostitutes”, “child prostitutes”, or even “former prostitutes” reinforces the message so often said by pimps and traffickers: “Once a ho always a ho”—which calcifies the gutter and an early grave as the ONLY place in society we’ll ever be allowed to have.

Language matters. Make NO mistake about it: it is NEVER acceptable to refer to human trafficking victims/survivors as “prostitutes”, “child prostitutes”, or “former prostitutes.” There is only ONE acceptable accurate term for us: CRIME VICTIMS. You blame the victim, you become an accomplice.


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