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How not to talk about human trafficking

Human trafficking is a complicated problem that can be difficult to discuss appropriately and sensitively. But as we've seen after the Somaly Mam case, the discourse of human trafficking has real impacts on anti-trafficking efforts and on trafficking victims and survivors.

2. Not all prostitution is human trafficking

The term “prostitution” refers to any exchange of sex for material benefit and exists on a spectrum of exploitation. At one end are women, men, and transgender individuals who freely choose to engage in sex work. At the other end of the spectrum are victims and survivors of sex trafficking. These women, men, transgender individuals and children are prostituted against their will through force, fraud, or coercion.

Conflation of sex work and sex trafficking often leads to policies that criminalize prostitution, making sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Meanwhile, the distinct needs of trafficking survivors are ignored in favor of “demand reduction” programs that target purchasers of commercial sex. These programs have not had any discernible effect on sex trafficking and, in fact, may disproportionately harm the sex workers that the programs are ostensibly intended to help.

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