Language of Human Trafficking

Language of Human Trafficking (pdf)

Language is important when discussing the issue of human trafficking with your audience. Below are some common terms to be used and not used when discussing human trafficking.

Use this language 

  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) 
  • Trafficker
  • Child Sex Trafficking

Do not use this language

  • Juvenile Prostitution
  • Juvenile Prostitute or Child Prostitute
  • Pimp
  • Teen Sex Worker

Smuggling vs. Trafficking

Smuggling is not the same thing as trafficking. Individuals who are trafficked into the U.S. for purposes of labor or sex are manipulated, forced, or coerced into the trade. Individuals who are smuggled, generally consent to illegally entering the U.S. and are free to leave, change jobs, etc. Victims of trafficking who are trafficked into the U.S. are not free to leave, isolated, and did not consent to their situation. Although the word "trafficking" implies movement, no movement is necessarily needed to be a trafficking victim. Individuals do not need to cross state or international boarders to be considered trafficking victims. Domestic servitude is an example of an trafficking where no movement is present.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

According to the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, youth who are trafficked into prostitution are victims of "commercial sexual exploitation." The term "juvenile prostitute" implies that children under the age of 18 are making choices to become involved in prostitution and are committing a crime. The blame for trafficking should be put on those reaping the benefits from exploiting children such as traffickers and individuals purchasing sex from children.

Trafficker vs. Pimp

Media and pop culture has normalized the word "pimp" and made it into a common term, that to youth implies someone that is not explicitly exploiting others for economic benefit. It's important for the facilitator to discuss the differences between what pop culture understands as a "pimp" and a person who is acting as a "trafficker".

Those who work with victims of trafficking may prefer to use the term "trafficker" instead of "pimp" to imply the seriousness of the offense.

Human Trafficking

  • "Child Sex Trafficking" under federal law means any person under the age of 18 that is involved in a commercial sex act in which someone else economically benefits. In contrast, a Teen Sex Worker implies that a young person has freely chosen and entered prostitution; a phenomenon that has not proven to be accurate in terms of how youth initially get involved in prostitution.
  • "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking" is the term used when a child, under the age of 18, and born in the U.S. is a victim of trafficking within the U.S.
  • "Human Trafficking" includes trafficking of adults, children, foreign nationals, and U.S. citizens, for the purposes of labor, sex, forced marriage, or organ harvesting, and may include trafficking within or outside of U.S. borders.
  • "Commercial sex act" includes:
    • Prostitution
    • Exotic dancing/stripping
    • Pornography