Following are some definitions and explanations of terms used in the National Survivor Network’s foundational documents.
Acronym that stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transgender, intersex, and asexual. These are sexual orientations and gender identities that are often stigmatized in our society, which means that the people in these communities are often misunderstood, misrepresented, or discriminated against. The + is there to remind us that there are many words people use to describe their own marginalized gender and sexual identities that are not included in this acronym, such as pansexual or agender. Sometimes people use different acronyms to refer to the same general community, including LGBTQ.
2SLGBTQIA+ people are at increased risk of experiencing trafficking than the general population. This is largely due to the discrimination and marginalization they experience in their families, communities, and services. 2SLGBTQIA+ protections include things like campaigns to change community norms around how 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals are welcomed. 2SLGBTQIA+ protections also include governmental anti-discrimination laws and guidance, as well as nonprofit organizations committing to meaningful inclusivity.
“Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other. Ableism is intertwined in our culture, due to many limiting beliefs about what disability does or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities and how we are often not included at the table for key decisions.” – Center for Disability Rights
Ableism, like other forms of structural oppression, can come in the form of individual beliefs and practices (“This person is ableist” or “this statement is ableist”) or systems (“This building is not accessible,” “only providing services to survivors without _____ disability is ableist,” or “putting the burden on disabled individuals to provide their own accommodations is ableist”). Like all forms of oppression, we can unintentionally participate in ableist beliefs and practices, can work to unlearn them, and can make intentional repair and steps toward accessibility and inclusion.
See also: Identity-first language
Abolition (Abolitionist, Abolitionism)
Broadly, abolition means ending something so that it no longer exists. During the time of slavery, people who advocated to end the slave trade and chattel slavery were “abolitionists.” When the 13th amendment passed, it abolished all slavery except as a punishment for a crime. This then made slavery outside of prisons illegal, but positioned criminal codes as a way for the state to use criminal convictions as a way of perpetuating slavery and rebuilding the free workforce that slavery had provided. After the 13th amendment, a series of laws were passed called “Black Codes” or “Jim Crow” that ensured the disproportionate incarceration of Black people descended from enslaved Africans.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused on ending discrimination, particularly around employment, segregation, and voting rights. In the 1980s, much of the momentum around continuing to undo the continuing and harmful legacy of slavery focused on ending our current carceral systems while developing community-based, equitable, and non-enslaving systems to take their place. This movement is sometimes referred to as prison abolition, or abolition of the “Prison Industrial Complex” (or PIC).
When people refer to the PIC, they are describing the ways that prisons are designed to rely on mass incarceration in order to survive, which makes it essential to continue developing laws that criminalize new behaviors. Then, the continued funding redirection into supporting carceral systems draws funding from social programs that could reduce both crime and incarceration, which increases the problem of crime. It becomes a cycle that perpetuates state-sanctioned and legalized slavery. People fighting to break this racist cycle in order to end slavery’s lasting impacts still call themselves “abolitionists.”
People who hope to end sex work or pornography often also call themselves “abolitionists” in referring to their work as abolitionism, or abolishing pornography and the sex trades. Because of the intentional conflation of consensual and trafficked commercial sex, this has led to people referring to their efforts to abolish the sex trades as efforts to abolish slavery. Many of them do not view enslavement of incarcerated people as slavery or oppose that form of forced labor, and many do not broadly advocate against legal and normalized exploitative labor practices that set the stage for human trafficking. Many also do not advocate against structural racism, or an end to state or carceral violence.
This then creates challenges when anti-trafficking advocates attempt collaborations with other anti-oppression organizations. Anti-racism orgs often find it disingenuous when some anti-sex work and anti-pornography organizations leverage the language of abolition to advocate for policies that increase criminalization and decrease economic support for marginalized individuals.
For this reason, the National Survivor Network does not utilize the language of abolition or chattel slavery in our work, and if we refer to “abolition” we are referring to the abolition of mass incarceration, prison labor, and the prison industrial complex. Learn more about prison industrial complex abolition at transformharm.org.
Active listening means listening with an intention of hearing and understanding (rather than listening to develop your response or argument). Some coaches and websites offer tips for using body language and brief, encouraging replies to show attention, but at its core active listening means listening non-defensively with the goal of understanding the other person’s experience, needs, or perspectives. Some people use a model called “Reflective Listening” which focuses on reflecting back the feelings rather than primarily the factual content. You can view our lesson on our YouTube channel here: Active and Reflective Listening as a Support Person
Agency (Bounded agency)
Agency means that people are able to express and act on their choices in a situation, even if they are not choices that other people agree with or would make themselves. “Bounded agency” is a phrase that describes how all people’s choices are limited by their culture, background, and access to resources and support. We often do not recognize the bounds (limits) of our own agency, especially if we have privilege. Have you ever heard someone say that the fish doesn’t notice the water it swims in? None of us has absolute freedom to do whatever we want because we have bounded agency, and not everybody understands “freedom” or “safety” the way we do.
This refers to language in many anti-violence and public health funding streams, enacted in 2003, that requires grantees to “not promote or support the legalization or practice of prostitution.” It was enacted as a result of anti-trafficking narratives that conflate consensual and trafficked participation in the sex trades. It is often used to discourage or prohibit activities that could help keep sex workers safer and could reduce their vulnerability to trafficking. Because of this, several organizations forbid their staff (including survivors who are speaking about their lived experiences) from talking about meaningful options to create safety for those in the sex trades, which has led to two decades of anti-trafficking narratives, policies, and programs, that are working against rather than in synergy with impacted workers. The anti-prostitution pledge limits survivors’ ability to advocate for solutions that would have helped them, and prevents harm reduction organizations (including those working domestically and abroad on HIV/AIDS) from being able to do their work with an evidence-based lens. Learn more: link.
The NSN emphatically does not promote the legalization or practice of prostitution. We do, however, support survivors, and that includes those who are engaged in the sex trades. We advocate for their safety, ability to organize, and their ability to be free from criminalization and stigma.
“An asylum-seeker is a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is a human right. This means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.” Amnesty International
Autonomy means people having the ability to make their own choices about their lives and bodies, and it is similar to agency. What this means is that we value people’s ability to make their own choices even when they are not choices we understand or agree with. Most of us are making choices from limited options, and some people’s choices are more severely limited than others. When someone doesn’t have many options, we can help by creating new options or making existing options more accessible. This helps them make the choices that are most in alignment with their needs and values. Taking away or limiting autonomy for adults “for their own good” is called “paternalism.”
This acronym was created to mean “Black and Indigenous People of Color,” as a way to acknowledge that even among “people of color” there are differences in the ways people experience racism. The earliest history of white settlers in the United States was the accumulation of wealth and power through genocide and enslavement that was specific to Black and Indigenous people of color, which impacts the unique ways white supremacy impacts them. Since the phrase BIPOC gained common popularity, most people have used it to stand for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color – a way of expanding on “POC” (people of color) that acknowledges that within that distinction there are many identities, and that POC are not monolith.
Capitalism (Capitalist systems of labor)
When we refer to capitalist systems of labor, we are typically referring to the kind of capitalism practiced in the United States. This means that:
The “free market” encourages competition and higher profit margins, which can encourage lower wages and other exploitative practices as a way of reducing costs and generating sales to increase profits.
A program or service that is connected to criminal-legal institutions, including public or private prisons, law enforcement, criminal court systems, or prosecutors; the child welfare systems; and immigration enforcement. The definition should encompass programs or services that, as a precondition to receiving services, make those seeking assistance to submit to surveillance, law enforcement involvement, or other restrictions on their personal liberty that are unnecessary for the service being provided. Examples of carceral programs include: legal service offices that, before providing assistance, require a survivor to file a police report; a domestic violence shelter that requires a survivor to have an active order of protection against the harm-doer; or a parenting class that makes participants submit to random drug and alcohol screens. Many people often experience forced treatment, involuntary commitment to a psychiatric institution, or elements of the current child welfare system as carceral.
Non-carceral: A program or service that is established and provided in a manner that is disconnected from carceral institutions, in terms of administration, staffing, or funding. (FreeFrom)
Slavery is a “condition in which one person is owned by another.” (Brittanica) There are many forms of slavery, and all of them fit the legal definition of human trafficking. Not all forms of trafficking, however, fit the definition of slavery. When people hear human trafficking referred to as “slavery,” they often think that means human trafficking is like chattel slavery, which is the form of slavery most people are familiar with. Chattel slavery is a system in which human beings can be “owned” like property, traded for debts, legally inherited after their “owners’” deaths, offered for collateral on bank loans, and traded just like any other capital or property. Children of people enslaved under these systems were also considered property, and thus enslaved people were “bred” by their “owners” like livestock to increase their “owners’” wealth.
Chattel slavery was legal and state-sanctioned in the United States (and its preceding colonies) from the 17th through the 19th centuries. This means that if someone defaulted on a loan or owed a penalty, the enslaved people could be “seized” for payment of state debts, by the government. While some forms of human trafficking, especially globally, may fit this definition, most forms of human trafficking do not. When anti-trafficking advocates use the language of “slavery” to describe trafficking (abolitionist, chains, “underground railroad,” slave, “modern day slavery”), they often exploit people’s confusion about trafficking being the same as chattel slavery in order to evoke fear, funding, and political benefit.
Globally, “modern day slavery” is often used to refer to human trafficking, other forms of forced labor, plus forced marriage, and the terminology is common. US-based advocates should consider their intentions when using language and be clear.
Using “modern slavery” is not recommended to describe human trafficking
Words Matter: Why we no longer call trafficking “slavery” and anti-trafficking “abolition”
Rethinking “Modern Day Slavery” – Don’t Disregard the Role of Race & Racism in the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement
Human Trafficking, Chattel Slavery, and Structural Racism: What Journalists Need to Know
Reconsidering the Use of the Terminology ‘Modern Day Slavery’ in the Human Trafficking Movement
Child welfare systems are government offices and programs meant to ensure children are safe from abuse, neglect, and other maltreatment. These systems and their practices have often harmed marginalized populations, prioritized child removal and family disruption rather than reunification, and increased youth’s vulnerability to trafficking. Some advocates refer to this as the “foster-to-trafficking pipeline,” and others note the deep similarities between harmful child welfare practices and residential schools for Native children.
Colonialism is “domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation [in order to extend and maintain] a nation’s political and economic control over another people or area.” It relies on “the subjugation of one people to another,” which means forcing one group of people to submit to the control of another group of people. A lot of times, problems in areas that have experienced colonization (such as poverty, famine, or violence) are not inherent to those regions, but were created by and are the lasting impacts of Western colonial violence.
“Community accountability is a community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. Community accountability is a process in which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things: 1) Create and affirm values & practices that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability; 2) Develop sustainable strategies to address community members’ abusive behavior, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior; 3) Commit to ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to transform the political conditions that reinforce oppression and violence; 4) Provide safety & support to community members who are violently targeted that respects their self-determination.” Incite!
Conflation of human trafficking in the sex trades and consensual sex work means the ways that some people try to indicate that all sex work is trafficked, that all sex work is unique exploitation, that people cannot consent to sex work, or that sex work is inherently degrading or violent. Conflation is a harmful practice. It increases stigma for workers in the sex trades, and that stigma is then leveraged by traffickers as part of control. It forces individuals in the sex trades to claim they are being trafficked in order to avoid criminalization. It denies the agency of people in the sex trades (thus replicating patterns of traffickers) by telling people who choose sex work that their choice is invalid. It focuses on exploitation within the sex trades as exceptional rather than an extension of existing patterns of exploitation in capitalist systems of labor. Some examples of conflation include:
Co-opting language (of chattel slavery)
Co-opting language means using language in a different way from what it originally meant. When the anti-trafficking sector co-opts the language of chattel slavery we intentionally misrepresent what trafficking is in order to advance our cause at the expense of minimizing the horrific violence experienced by enslaved Black people during chattel slavery, and without regard for the way the 13th amendment transformed chattel slavery into mass incarceration of Black people. See our entry on abolition for more context.
Not all crimes are violent, and not all violence is encoded in criminal law. Violence is not the same as crime, and vice versa. Because of the history of using “illicit” and “criminal” in partnership with racist framings of crime, saying “criminalized economies” is a way of acknowledging that many ways of making income are encoded in our laws as crimes without making an inherent judgment about the individuals engaged in these economies. Using “criminalized” acknowledges that crime =/= violence.
Decriminalization of survival
Many people who are marginalized from access to safety, resources, and protections are charged with crimes related to their survival. Decriminalization of survival often includes crimes related to homelessness, loitering, camping, sex-trading, street economies, and immigration.
Decriminalization of sex work
The full decriminalization of sex work means the removal of any criminal penalties related to consensual adult commercial sexual services. Many forms of sex work, including stripping, camming, and pornography, are already legal. Most forms of sex work that involve “full service sex work” are currently criminalized in most parts of the United States. When we say decriminalization of sex work we do not mean partial criminalization (in which buyers are still criminalized for purchasing consensual sexual services, sometimes also called “End Demand,” “Nordic Model,” “Equality Model,” or “asymmetrical criminalization”). We also do not mean legalization, in which sex work is legalized with entry requirements that most sex workers could not afford or that violate their human rights. Decriminalization of sex work does not decriminalize traffickers, which is a common myth.
Decriminalization is not legalization.
“Domestic abuse, also called ‘domestic violence’ or ‘intimate partner violence’, can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” (UN) Any trafficking in which the trafficker is an intimate partner of their victim is a form of partner violence. Experts in domestic violence and/or partner violence are essential collaborators on any effective anti-trafficking prevention and response program, as they already have bodies of knowledge and practices that are essential to ending this kind of trafficking.
Formally, domestic abuse may include any abuse happening within a home, to include between housemates and parents/children, and “intimate partner violence” is not considered “domestic abuse” if the people do not live together. However, these words are often used interchangeably by the general public.
“The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color… Higher arrest and incarceration rates for these communities are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use, but rather of law enforcement’s focus on urban areas, lower income communities and communities of color.” (Drug Policy Institute) Once criminalized, people experience higher barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, citizenship, and family economic security, making them more vulnerable to trafficking.
End demand (or “demand reduction”) is a practice that aims to reduce the buying of sexual services by targeting buyers with increased criminalization and/or shaming messaging. Most government agencies reference demand reduction as part of their strategy, but specifically state that it should only be used to reduce demand for trafficked sex – that of minors or those who are clearly coerced or trapped. In practice, however, this often means targeting buyers of consensual adult sex work. Learn more about the evidence on end demand strategies at this desk review of impacts of end demand: link. View the NSN’s full statement on End Demand here: link.
Many people assume equity and equality are the same. Equality means we give everyone the same tools to succeed, which does not support the success of those who have been shut out of access in the first place or who have higher barriers to success. Equity means we give everyone the support they need to feel successful and have access to wellness, and according to the ways systemic oppression impacts that access.. Equity accounts for different starting points that are based in historical oppression or personal trauma. “The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.” (Paula Dressel)
Fraud (in labor trafficking)
We are so used to hearing “force, fraud, or coercion” in our definition of trafficking that we may assume all trafficking is treated the same under the law. This is not the case. Force, fraud, or coercion are the standard of proving victimhood for both labor and sex trafficking cases, which means that both labor and sex trafficking survivors can get victim benefits if their trafficking was by fraud. Force, fraud, or coercion are also the criminal standard for sex trafficking, which means that people who traffic others using fraud can be charged and prosecuted. Fraud is absent, however, from the criminal standard for labor trafficking. This means that if someone is trafficked in a non-sexual form of labor by fraud, they can get victim benefits as a survivor of trafficking, but their trafficker cannot be charged or prosecuted.
GBV (Gender-based violence)
Any behavior involving the use of violence; intimidation; coercive control; harassment; discrimination; physical, verbal, psychological, economic, or technological abuse; the act or attempted act of stalking; or any other harmful or violent behavior committed against an individual 1) on the basis of their actual or perceived gender identity or expression, 2) for for their lack of adherence to varying socially constructed norms around masculinity and femininity, or 3) in which gendered norms are part of the exertion of power and control. Examples include but are not limited to intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, gender discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, assault, battery, and murder. (FreeFrom) Some people refer to this as “patriarchal violence” to acknowledge the ways that patriarchy generates and reinforces conditions for violence against people of all genders.
Generational wealth refers to any assets that a family passes down to their children. This can include housing, savings, stock, property, or other investments.
“Generative conflict holds repair and growth as its goals and ideals; is between people who are collaborating toward greater understanding and equity, and who listen to and hear each other; and is solution-oriented. This is in comparison to counter-productive conflict, which has being right or proving the other wrong as its goals and ideals; loses sight of collaboration; causes participants, particularly those with marginalized identities, to feel unheard or unseen; and is not solution-oriented.” (Emergent Space)
Harm Reduction International states that harm reduction “refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. Harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights. It focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support.” These practices are often used by sex worker safety organizations. While many people perceive harm reduction as a way to help people engaging in “high risk behaviors” to be safer while doing those behaviors, the reality is that almost all behaviors carry some degree of risk. Wearing a seatbelt is harm reduction for the risks of driving. Harm reduction must be done in a nonjudgmental way, without a specific external outcome forced on a person, and must not utilize any form of shame or coercion.
Please see the National Harm Reduction Coalition’s fact sheet on sex work and harm reduction, NCCASA’s adapted principles of harm reduction for the sex trades, or Reframe Health and Justice’s Healing-Centered Harm Reduction principles to learn more.
“A healing centered approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing. A healing-centered approach views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively.” (Shawn Ginwright) When we say “healing and growth-centered,” we mean that we are focused on healing and personal growth for participants, with an understanding of the context of cultural trauma.
Health equity is a public health framework that acknowledges how people’s health outcomes (including their experiences of violence) are influenced by more than just their individual behavior. For example, historical and cultural oppression, intergenerational trauma, and systemic racism can lead to poor health outcomes that individual choices may not be able to overcome. This highlights the need for health programs (including violence prevention and response) to address community and society level risk, and the impacts of oppression on health and violence.
According to the CDC, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” Paula Dresser adds: “the route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”
Because health disparities are so closely intertwined with violation of human rights and ongoing oppression, the NSN’s approach to health equity incorporates a social justice, human rights lens.
People who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness are at increased risk for trafficking, and people who are leaving trafficking situations are often left homeless if they weren’t before. (EndHomelessness) Federal, state, and local policy on homelessness can directly prevent trafficking, and low barrier, housing-first shelter policies are trafficking prevention.
When we refer to a human rights approach, we mean approaches in which development is never at the expense of rights; that give rights rather than remove them; that prioritize marginalized communities and reduce disparities; and in which the strategies are empowering, rather than disempowering. A human rights approach addresses root causes, and looks at the roles intersecting systems play in increasing or decreasing vulnerability to exploitation. Some of these systems include immigration policy, worker rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, housing and homelessness policy, substance use policy, accessible healthcare, affordable child and elder care, decarceration and decriminalization of survival, sexual autonomy, and reproductive justice.
Some individuals prefer person-first language, such as “people with disabilities” or “person with autism.” For a while, this way was broadly recommended in social services and advocacy spaces to highlight that all people are people first, and that their humanity isn’t defined by their disabilities, health conditions, or other experiences or identities. Some self-advocates have pushed back on person-first language due to a concern that person-first language downplays the extent to which their identities or experiences impact their daily lives and self-understanding, or that person-first language somehow makes their disabilities or identities feel like something to be ashamed of or to remain “secondary.” Identity-first language might be worded as “disabled person” or “autistic adult.”
It is important to always remember that changes in language norms (person-first, identity-first, “survivor,” “victim,” “thriver”) must always be paired with changes in perceptions and biases to have more-than-superficial impact, and to follow the lead and language preferences of the person you are working with.
“[Undocumented immigrants] are at risk of mistreatment and exploitation because of their legal status, not to mention constantly at risk of deportation. Trying to deport millions of people to their home country would be unworkable and only serve to fragment families and harm local communities. Immigration reform should include a legalization process that would provide protections for these vulnerable individuals and their families, as it would allow undocumented persons to integrate as full participants in American life and society.” (Justice for Immigrants)
Impacted communities are communities that are impacted by an issue. For human trafficking, “impacted communities” includes both people who have been or are currently directly impacted by human trafficking as well as people who have been or currently are directly impacted by anti-human trafficking policies. All impacted communities have wisdom to guide anti-trafficking practices and legislation and should have a voice in developing meaningful solutions that do not create additional harm.
Lateral violence is aggression, physical violence, emotional or psychological violence, harassment, bullying, or other forms of violent behavior between people in impacted communities. When survivors harass, bully, or isolate other survivors, this is lateral violence. Lateral violence is often perpetrated by peers who seek to gain power by taking it from others. People who have power and are outside of the impacted community itself often encourage, foster, and facilitate lateral violence as a way of disrupting solidarity so that they can keep power.
Leveraging privilege and positionality
Privilege means a special advantage, immunity, or benefit not enjoyed by all people. Having certain kinds of privilege does not mean your life has been easy or that you haven’t had to work hard for your healing or safety. It means you haven’t had to deal with some of the challenges faced by other groups, at least not in the same way. Positionality means your position in your world – the unique intersection of your identities (because most of us have some marginalized and some privileged identities), your work, your status, your current access to safety, resources, and power. Those of us who have some privileges don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed; instead, we need to actively leverage our privilege and positionality to help those who have less privilege to have access to the resources, rooms, and power that we do. Concrete examples of leveraging your privilege and positionality may include:
When we say “marginalized,” we are referring to communities, populations, or identities that have been historically and/or systematically deprived of access to safety, resources, and power. Marginalized communities do not inherently lack safety, resources, and power; they have been deprived of equitable access do to practices like redlining, disparate policing and incarceration, and biased definitions about things like “professionalism” or “intelligence.”
In the context of the sex trades, a “market facilitator” (sometimes also called a “third-party market facilitator”) is someone who “helps obtain customers but without evidence of coercion, control, or force.” When a market facilitator uses ethical labor practices and respects the agency of the person trading sex, they can be beneficial or helpful to the person in the sex trades in accessing safe options for sexual labor. When the person claiming to be a market facilitator (or manager) uses force, fraud, coercion, or exploitation of minors, that is human trafficking. Because many anti-trafficking messages falsely paint all market facilitators as traffickers, people in the sex trades often lack information needed to determine a safe, helpful market facilitator from a potential trafficker, which increases their vulnerability to trafficking.
Some people in the sex trades or advocates may refer to market facilitators in the sex trades as a “pimp.” This language is not recommended in anti-trafficking advocacy due to it being used to perpetuate racist stereotypes about Black men. Additionally, it can lead to confusion as some folks use this word to suggest trafficking and some use it to refer even to market facilitators providing beneficial support and wanted services to people engaging in consensual commercial sex.
Mitigation of power dynamics
Survivors working in anti-trafficking movement leadership are often on the receiving end of power dynamics from government and nonprofit agencies, leaders, and advocates. Often, survivors are asked to “share their stories” and may feel compelled to do so, with or without pay, because they feel indebted to the asking person or organization. Often, they depend on income from paid consulting, and feel an implicit or explicit obligation to tell their stories in a way that increases their income. And often, once they gain some degree of stability or presence within a movement, survivor leaders may gatekeep or enact power dynamics over other survivors in the movement. We seek to reduce the role that these kinds of power dynamics play over how and when survivors choose to share their experiences or engage in movement work. One simple way organizations can do this is by ensuring that any time a survivor is offered a paid opportunity to share their story they may also choose a similarly-compensated “behind the scenes” opportunity that does not require telling their trauma story.
Stanley Cohen introduced the concept of a “moral panic” in his 1972 book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. A moral panic occurs when a “condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to social values and interests.” Media play a key role in enforcing and amplifying moral panics, even if they’re just reporting the news, and this is especially true in our modern social media models.
Moral panics have a cyclical nature.
A movement is a group of people, led by those most impacted by the issue and with others showing up as allies, working to: 1) end the harm caused by the issue and 2) create opportunities for the impacted communities to thrive.
A sector is the industry that develops to address an issue, and includes government, non-governmental organization, and workers.
Some people who are part of a movement may also work in the sector; some people who are part of the anti-trafficking movement may intentionally minimize their engagement with the sector for a variety of reasons. Some people who are part of the sector may also engaged in movement organizing and support; some people who are part of the sector have not engaged meaningfully with or are not following the leadership of the movement.
Nonprofit industrial complex
Social service non-profits are often structurally incentivized to ensure their own existence rather than address root causes of labor exploitation or sexual violence. Some people refer to this cyclical dynamic as the “non-profit industrial complex.” This happens because funding may be limited to services that focus on individual behavior change, like therapy, case management, and job training. This forces human trafficking victim services to be exceptionalized, siloed, and duplicative, rather than build on the collective expertise of established anti-violence and labor resources.
Learn more: Read The Revolution Will Not Be Funded
Specifically, nonviolent communication is a method of communicating our observations, feelings, needs, and requests/strategies that helps us be conscious of the ways we use language to establish, maintain, or mitigate power dynamics. Broadly, when we say nonviolent communication, we are referring to compassionate communication that seeks to understand, to clarify, to articulate needs, and to navigate generative conflict with integrity and reducing harm.
People of the global majority
“We use ‘people of the global majority’ (PGM) interchangeably with ‘black, indigenous, and people of color’ (BIPOC), since black, indigenous, and people of color represent over 80% of the world’s population. This wording points out the demographic inaccuracy of the euphemism ‘minority’ and can feel more empowering for some people.” (PGM ONE)
Precarious work means work in positions where workers do not have secure, stable employee status that does not put their wellbeing at odds with their economic survival. This includes contract and temporary work, work as an “independent contractor,” and work in informal or street economies. It also includes work in which employees cannot leave if they needed to, cannot take a sick or family day without risking unpaid bills, or are pressured due to economic necessity to do work or tolerate employment practices that cause them harm. “Undervalued work” carries similar increased vulnerabilities as it often lacks adequate worker protections. Sometimes we also refer to this as “work in informal economies.”
People experiencing poverty are at higher risk for trafficking. Economic policies, programs, and strategies that reduce or mitigate the impacts of poverty reduce trafficking.
Public health approach
“The focus of public health is on the health, safety, and well-being of entire populations. A unique aspect of the approach is that it strives to provide the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. Public health relies on knowledge from a broad range of disciplines including medicine, epidemiology, sociology, psychology, criminology, education, and economics. This broad knowledge base has allowed the field of public health to respond successfully to a range of health conditions across the globe.” (CDC) Public health looks at health behaviors in their community and social context, and prioritizes “upstream” approaches.
Radical empathy (a concept coined by philosopher Khen Lampert) means having compassionate empathy for where people are coming from, even when they disagree with you.
“A refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country because their own government cannot or will not protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.” Amnesty International
Rescue and Restore
“Rescue and restore” is a model of anti-trafficking response that has been common in the anti-trafficking movement that focuses on “rescuing” survivors from their trafficking situations and “restoring” them to “wholeness.” This framing has been criticized in recent years for disregarding survivor agency and reinforcing savior narratives.
The idea of “rescue” puts the rescuer in the position of having power, agency, and choice, while framing the survivor as a passive recipient. This disregards the hard work survivors often do to exit (or prepare to exit) their trafficking situations and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of trafficking. Additionally, this overemphasis on “rescue” as the indicator of the success of trafficking services disregards survivor agency, ignores that sometimes immediate exit has negative consequences for the survivor or their loved ones, and has led to the coercive “rescue” (through coercive services or criminalization) of consensual adult sex workers under the assumption that someone else knows what is best for them. Instead consider: “assistance if they desire to exit their trafficking situation,” “offering support and services,” “needs assessment,” and “building trust and transparency” as alternative markers for success.
“Restore” also objectifies survivors. One survivor said, “Restore? What am I – furniture?” Also, restoration assumes there is some idyllic pre-trafficking condition survivors can be returned to. In reality, many survivors’ lives before trafficking included abuse, trauma, violence, oppression, and poverty. Those survivors may not want “restoration” — they may want resources to establish their own safety and support in their healing work. Consider: “support and services,” “survivor-controlled financial resources to re-establish agency,” “increasing accessibility of services,” and “reducing barriers to resources and services” as alternative markers for success.
Safeguarding is a concept that is more familiar in the UK and in global anti-trafficking work than in the US. It is a way of proactively determining protocols to ensure that people do not experience harm as a result of their interactions with you, and that they have recourse and options for formal grievance, resolution, and repair if harm happens. Safeguarding policies can be in place for clients and can include things like trauma-informed care, a code of ethics, grievance procedures, guidelines around use of stories or imagery, and confidentiality. Organizations can also implement safeguarding procedures for their work with consultants, contractors, and research participants. See the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery’s safeguarding policies for an example.
School disciplinary practices
School disciplinary practices are often disproportionately targeted at and implemented against students of color and 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, and can increase vulnerability to trafficking and other harms
The school-to-prison pipeline is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.
“Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in schools lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.” (ACLU)
Self-actualization means the process of someone being able to explore who they are, learn what they need and how to articulate it, and live out their potential or hopes. All people deserve the right to self-actualization, which requires having basic needs met (housing, income, food), opportunities/options, and the right to make your own choices about your life.
“Severe forms of trafficking”
The TVPA defines human trafficking as “a) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or b) The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(9)).”
Scholars have pointed out that this definition includes an “operational” definition of the crime of human trafficking involving force, fraud, or third-party coercion, and a “non-operational” reference to “sex trafficking” that does not involve force, fraud, or coercion, that purposefully conflates trafficking and sex work. This was created as a compromise to create a law that does not include consensual adult sexual behavior under the definition of trafficking while trying to appease anti-sex work, anti-pornography activists.
This language is often used by anti-sex work and anti-pornography activists to suggest that all commercial sex is trafficking and thus criminal or “enslavement,” relying on the public to not understand the criminal, operational definition of human trafficking. “Severe forms of human trafficking” in the law refers to the crime of trafficking involving force, fraud, or third-party coercion or the exploitation of a minor in commercial sex, does not conflate sex work and sex trafficking, and does not include consensual sex work in any form. See Responding to Human Trafficking: Sex, Gender, and the Law by Alicia W. Peters for more background.
When we refer to people in the sex trades (or people engaging in commercial sex), we are referring to individuals engaged in commercial sex across the spectrum of agency. This includes pornography, stripping, camming, subscription-based image and video platforms, as well as street, hotel/motel, sugar-babying, and escort models of full-service sex work. This word is one we use when we are speaking of needs or impacts that effect both sex workers and trafficking victims alike, and is plural to recognize the diversity of experiences that fall under the umbrella of commercial sex. An example: “People in the sex trades benefit from nonjudgmental support from their healthcare providers.” We would say “people in the sex trades” here instead of “trafficking survivors” or “sex workers” because this is a need that is applicable to both because of the nature of stigma and unique healthcare needs. When we refer to people in the sex trades, we do not mean people who engage others in the sex trades through force, fraud, or coercion or who exploit minors.
Labor in the sex trades that is consensual is sex work. Many trafficking victims do not want to be called sex workers because their experience was a violation rather than “work.” Some trafficking victims who have both trafficked and consensual experience in the sex trades prefer “sex work” to refer to their consensual experiences, and do not want to have their consensual experiences compared to their trafficking experiences. It is not recommended to use “sex work” or “sex worker” to refer to trafficking experiences or victimization. While some people in the sex trades use the word “prostitution” or “prostitute,” we do not use “prostitute” at all since it is often used in a negative way, and will never refer to sex work as “prostitution” except when referring to a specific criminal charge.
People who are consensually in the sex trades largely disagree with the terms “prostituted person,” “commercial sexual exploitation” to refer to consensual adult work, or “were sold for sex” to refer to consensual adult commercial sex, noting the ways these words deny their agency, increase stigma, and reinforce the belief that buyers do not have to have their consent. Support people’s self-definition. If someone does or does not find the phrase “sex work” to be reflective of their experiences, use the word they prefer when referring to their own experiences. That said, no person gets to control the words others use to describe their own experiences. Blanket statements to never call commercial sex “sex work” (even when it is consensual and among adults) create harm, increase stigma, and disregard the autonomy of people who use that word for themselves.
“Sexual violence means that someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent.” (NSVRC) All sex trafficking involves sexual violence (and any sex trafficking in which someone never consented to commercial sex in the first place is a form of sexual violence/assault), and sexual violence is often a part of the force, fraud, and coercion in labor trafficking as well. Experts in sexual violence are essential collaborators on any effective anti-trafficking prevention and response program, as they already have bodies of knowledge and practices that are essential to ending this kind of trafficking.
A community, state, or people who are sovereign maintain the ability to govern themselves. We often think of sovereign nations or sovereign tribes as having their own systems of government that are respected by others. We can also think of personal sovereignty, in which a person’s autonomy, agency, and right to manage their own affairs is respected by others and by the state.
Social Ecological Model (SEM)
The social ecological model acknowledges that risk and protective factors for a particular health outcome (such as perpetrating or experiencing human trafficking) exist at each level of the “Social Ecological Model” (or SEM).
Risk factors increase the likelihood of violence occurring, even if they are not causal. Protective factors decrease the likelihood of violence occurring or increase resilience. In the field of public health, research determines the evidence for what risk and protective factors are, and some things that might intuitively seem to increase or decrease risk are sometimes found to be unrelated or a “side effect” of a different risk factor. Risk and protective factors for human trafficking exist at each level of the social ecological model (SEM): Individual, Relationship, Community, and Society. Comprehensive prevention targets risk and protective factors at each level as well, as a prevention approach that only addresses one level is unlikely to be effective.
State violence refers to violence that is perpetrated by the government, its systems, or its employees or actors. State violence includes violence by law enforcement, prisons, immigration policies, and economic systems.
Survivor-centric or survivor-centered care means that all who are engaged in anti-violence programming prioritize the rights, needs, and wishes of the survivor.
“Systemic oppression exists at the level of institutions (harmful policies and practices) and across structures (education, health, transportation, economy, etc) that are interconnected and reinforcing over time. Systemic oppression has historical antecedents. We must face our national legacy and current manifestations of racism and economic inequality in order to transform them. Without rigorous examination, behavior is reproductive. By default, current practices, cultural norms and institutional arrangements foster and maintain inequitable outcomes. To undo systemic oppression, we must forge multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual alliances and create democratic processes that give voice to new organizing systems for humanity.” (National Equity Project)
“U nonimmigrant visas provide legal status to victims of an enumerated list of “qualifying criminal activities” who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse, and possess information concerning that crime, and who have been, are being, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement or government officials. T nonimmigrant visas provide legal status to certain victims of human trafficking who assist law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking crimes.” (DOL) These visas take a long time to process, require cooperation with the criminal investigation (which may put the survivor or their family at risk of harm), are not guaranteed to be approved, and require disclosure of undocumented status (which makes someone at risk of deportation if their visa is not approved).
Tokenism is a practice in which people with diverse lived experiences are highlighted in a group’s work or given limited leadership opportunities so that an organization can claim an equity practice or “survivor leadership,” without a willingness to fundamentally transform the organization’s systems and practices. Examples of this would include engaging survivor leaders to speak about policy on behalf of an organization while restricting their speech to talking points, putting survivors into positions of leadership without providing them equitable access to professional development and skill-building, or creating a program with limited survivor collaboration and then inviting survivors to “review” a completed product and provide minor revisions.
This phrase was coined by Taylar Nuevelle to describe the ways in which untreated trauma often manifests in “problem behaviors” that are addressed in punitive and criminalized ways that increase rates of incarceration among trauma survivors.
(1) An understanding of the historical context of trauma and oppression in addition to the incident of violence; (2) an understanding of the impact that trauma, of all kinds, can have on survivors, including but not limited to their physical, emotional, and mental health, financial security, and their ability to engage in services; (3) an understanding that service providers can also cause harm and retraumatize survivors, regardless of their intent; and (4) an understanding of the need to accommodate a survivor’s specific needs so as to avoid causing further harm or trauma. (FreeFrom) Trauma can be individual, interpersonal, familial, collective, intergenerational, historical, and epigenetic, and a truly trauma-informed approach will account for all of these forms of trauma.
“Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status. In tribes where two-spirit males and females were referred to with the same term, this status amounted to a third gender. In other cases, two-spirit females were referred to with a distinct term and, therefore, constituted a fourth gender.” (Indian Health Service) “Two spirit” is used by Indigenous individuals to indicate they have more than one gender, and is a phrase unique to Native communities.
“The term ‘underserved populations’ means populations who face barriers in accessing and using victim services, and includes populations underserved because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, underserved racial and ethnic populations, populations underserved because of special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age), and any other population determined to be underserved by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as appropriate.” (Cornell)
Vacatur and expungement
Consult a lawyer or Freedom Network’s Survivor Re-entry Project for a detailed description of vacatur and expungement. Vacatur means reversing the conviction due to extenuating circumstances (such as trafficking). Expungement means getting rid of the record that the conviction ever happened.
White slave panic
“In the early twentieth century, as women were moving into the urban workforce and public life was expanding, journalistic exposés, novels, and vice commission reports trumpeted fears about “white slavery” sweeping the country. The panic peaked in 1913, with the release of the hit film Traffic in Souls.” (JSTOR Daily) Examples of this moral panic include texts like Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls, which declared the “white slave trade” the “greatest crime in the world’s history.” It led to the passage of the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910, and later case law declaring that “illicit fornication” could be considered “immoral purposes” regardless of consent. The white slave panic emerged in the wake of anti-immigrant racism that nominally used “unfree labor” in the sex trades to restrict Asian immigration without explicitly naming it as an anti-immigrant law. (Page Act of 1875)
Xenophobia means “an aversion or hostility to, disdain for, or fear of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers” or “fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself.” Xenophobia increases people’s vulnerability to human trafficking and makes it harder for migrant survivors to achieve safety and stability.