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A note on terminology

Module 1 highlights some of the complications and confusing messaging within the phrase “human trafficking”. These complications, and the impacts of misinformation, will be explored more thoroughly in Module 4. In order to keep our discussions and intentions clear from these complications, we have shifted away from “trafficking” terminology. Instead, we opted for language that felt the most inclusive, sex-positive, anti-racist, and based in equity.

We always try to center youth’s experience as youth and individuals before their experience of exploitation. To do this, we have chosen to use the terminology ‘youth who experience exploitation,’ and variations like ‘youth who may be exposed to exploitation.’ This training program is not about supporting youth because their experience fits into the legal definition of “human trafficking” or because they choose to report ‘traffickers.’ Instead, we hope to equip service providers with the awareness, skills, and tools to support youth regardless of legal definitions and complicated or unclear terminology.

When centering youth, we want to maintain space for self-identification. Outside of this training, the terms victim or survivor may be used to describe a person who has experienced exploitation. However, a person who has experienced exploitation may not identify with the term victim, survivor, or even as someone who has experienced exploitation. Despite using a particular terminology, we will always respect an individual’s choice to identify as they see fit.

In the same line of thought, we use the phrase “people who exploit for personal or financial gain,” instead of the term “trafficker.” Humanizing people who cause harm, despite the fact that they cause harm, is an aspect of non-disposability that will be explored in this module. Together, these phrases seek to challenge the victim/perpetrator binary. The victim/perpetrator binary is the idea that we can only be a victim or a perpetrator, and not both at once or someone who moves between the two experiences. Our intention is to uphold that we all experience harm and we all have the capacity to cause harm. Moving away from either/or thinking enhances our ability to be more equitable, compassionate, and anti-oppressive.

Most importantly, and as we will discuss, exploitation does not occur because a person is inherently bad. The systems of oppression and violence we live in create an environment and culture that allow, and often encourage, exploitation to occur. While individuals should be held accountable for the harm they cause, our work does not stop there – we must dismantle these systems and create systems that value and uplift all our communities. Focusing only on individuals makes it harder for us to create the widespread change necessary to end exploitation.

Personally, I am working to root the word “predator” out of my vocabulary because we aren’t hunting for predators in an otherwise pristine forest. The forest itself is on fire.

Kelly Hayes, Punishing “Predators” Will Not Save Us

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