The power of language

As one who always harps on the importance and power of language, I got a good reminder the other day.  I was at a conference on human trafficking in the southern cone and someone commented on something I hadn’t thought about:

By naming human trafficking a “phenomenon” are we diminishing the perception of criminality?  The woman who made the point was irate. Bell bottoms are a phenomenon. Global warming is a phenomenon.  Human trafficking is a crime.

I can’t promise that I will stop talking about the phenomenon and how it has shifted over time, etc.; however, it certainly is something to think about.



  1. While no one wants to see anyone victimized or enslaved, it is important to understand that a few bad examples are being used to extrapolate this problem into a magnitude that is not realistic or accurate.

    The first thing to do is to understand trafficking and sort through the terminology that has been purposefully generated, misused and conflated like sex slaves, child sex slaves, modern day slavery, trafficking, sex trafficking. All these terms are run together and used very loosely by govt and media alike with little or no accountability. The media has gone bananas conflating terminology and sensationalizing here because sex sells and gets ratings. Most media outlets get thier data from another media source (likely without verifying it) so its become a self perpetuating exaggeration.

    Some think prostitution and trafficking are synonomous….like the Bush administration. This is not accurate and was not the intent when Congress passed the law in 2000 because the federal govt has no Constitutional basis for regulating prostitution which has always been a state law matter.

    If you follow most of the trafficking cases in the US, you will find that people are charged with trafficking but rarely charged or convicted with slavery. This distinction means means that force or restraint was not used. The definitions in the law do not require force or restraint to qualify for trafficking. Most poeple do not know that because the public has been decieved by the govt…..again. Recruitment for commerical sex is enough to qualify for trafficking. A federal defense attorney friend of mine says the state licensed brothels in technically illegal under the federal trafficking laws, but the DOJ has not chosen (yet) to pursue it….because it would bring to light the misuses of the program and the overly broad of the definitions in the law. It would likely result in a judge stricking the law down as unconstitutional.

    In late 2007, the State dept finally admitted that they have had a great deal of trouble finding real victims. They estimated 50,000 victims each year into the US. In 8 years now, they have found only 1100 which is less than 0.25% of what they should have found. The Washington Post was one of the few media outlets that covered it. Most big media companies have made TV specials about it where they take the worst examples. The media cannot admit the problem is overexaggerated now because they have a return on their investment to obtain. I find it funny that they never say anything about the over estimated numbers issue in their specials. It is factual.

    This sort of trick is not new. THe History Channel ran a special about the history of prostitution….which was legal in the US up until the early 1900s. At that time, a bunch of religious nuts cooked up a problem where they said white women were being enslaved in brothels in big cities. You have to remember that segregation was legal then too. They went to Congress and got everyone upset and enacted Congress to inlist the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes the FBI got its first big purpose chasing prostitutes in New York. The FBI shutdown the brothels and interviewed the women. And low and behold, they could not find any enslaved women (or very very few), but they got the law on the books anyway…which was thier goal. Recently, govt bureacrats realized that it worked before….lets do it again.

    What we have here is a govt (with media help) using a lot of smoke and mirrors as an excuse to regulate prostitution because there are some who think “I think its wrong therefore it should be illegal”.

  2. This is not to say that there are not trafficking vitims. I am sure there are, but the problem is not nearly as bad as people envision it be. Including consenual prostitution into the definition of trafficking has allowed to present very large numbers, but most of them are willing adults who choose to be in the business of prostitution.

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