27 – What’s in a Label?

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The labels that we use define how we understand problems. Sandra Morgan, the Director of the Global Center for Women & Justice and Dave Stachowiak, one of the Center’s board members, identify some common labels that our society uses and discuss best practices for finding better ways to describe issues in human trafficking to help end it.

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Dave: You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast; this is episode number 27, airing on April 26th, 2012. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast, my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie were going to be talking about labels today, but before talking about labels, we have had some cool media coverage that has happened as a result of the podcast here.

Sandie: You know, it was very exciting to open my inbox on Sunday morning and have an email from Holly Smith who is a survivor who has testified before congress and at that time had cited our podcast on development, mental development of kids and why they are so vulnerable, so in an article in the Washington times, she also cited our podcast.

Dave: Oh wow!
Sandie: So that was exciting, Dave, we are famous!
Dave: Well thank you Holly for helping us get the message out more and pointing this podcast out as a resource and you know, Sandie, we’ve been talking all along, if we could just continue to have as many people as possible be connected with some of the tools a resources were talking about on this show and even more importantly than that, building relationships with the people in this show’s community, that we really do start to form those partnerships we have been talking about so much.

Sandie: Absolutely, and it’s really important, we will eventually do an interview with Holly, we’ve talked about that and Holly and I are talking about a schedule so put that on your calendar.

Dave: Good, good. Excellent.

Sandie: And if you have any questions that you’d like us to ask survivors like Holly Smith, please send them in to us at GCWJ.vanguard.edu or you can call and leave a voicemail on our phone number which is…

Dave: (714) 966-6361, and you can reach us there anytime.

Sandie: And I had a great conversation going on with one of our listeners in South Africa in the last few weeks and it begins to make it very clear to me how important it is to get information out there and assessable to the everyday person, because we are all in this together and we are not going to be able to end human trafficking just from a law enforcement perspective or just from a victim’s service perspective.

Dave: And it really is a global issue, Sandie, many of the things that we are struggling with here in the states and similar things that they are struggling with in South Africa, similar challenges that the European countries are struggling with. The more we can all learn together and support each other, we really do work to end this on a global scale, because of course its not enough just to do what a lot of law enforcement did back in the 70’s and 80’s around gang enforcement, which they did a great job in one place then the gangs would just move somewhere else down the street or to the next neighborhood, so having a global conversation is really essential for this issue.

Sandie: And I think especially in the area of commercial sexual exploitation, that’s what we’ve talked about several times, and that’s what the article that Holly Smith wrote is about, that there are some things that the everyday person can do which will just become a part of their household vocabulary that can change how this is perceived in their community, among law enforcement professionals, among clinicians, among school teachers. If we can begin to understand how important that is, we can all do something every single day that does change and does contribute to ending this kind of sex trafficking.

Dave: Well Sandie, I am going to throw myself into the category of ‘everyday person.’ I feel like an everyday person, so I am curious, what are some of the things I can do around using the correct vocabulary and using the correct labels, so I am very interested in our topic today to really look at what is in a label, and why is that important for us to consider when we are talking about human trafficking and many of the things that go along with it unfortunately.

Sandie: I think its best summed up in a quote from Sergeant Byron Fasset of Dallas, Texas. I met him a couple of years ago at a Department of Justice conference on human trafficking and he said, if a 45 year old man had sex with a 14 year old girl and no many changed hands, he was likely to get jail time for statutory rape. We would call is statutory rape. However if the same man left 80 dollars on the table after having sex with her, she would probably be locked up for juvenile prostitution, and he would probably go home with a fine, a ticket as a john. So, the difference because she is being sold changes who she is and who he is. Changes the penalty on both sides of the equation, and we aren’t going to talk about him today, that’s another show. We are going to talk about her and while we use the term gender ‘female’ most of the time when we talk about this, I also want to make it clear that this happens to boys as well. And depending on whose statistics you are reading, anywhere from 14 and I heard as high as 20% of commercially sexually exploited children as boys and this is an area that will require more attention as well.

Dave: The example you just gave, Sandie, of the two situations where an older man has sex with a younger woman just really highlights how terminology really does play an important role in the conversation we have around this, and I think it was Plato that said ‘The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.’ So, this really is an important thing for us to look at. And scary when you think about it too, just that example that you just gave, it’s tough to think about it from that lens.

Sandie: Well, and we have a couple of different terms that are becoming more common in professional practitioner’s language, so you’ve heard on this program, ‘commercial sexual exploitation of children.’ We talk about the reason we use that is because it very clearly defines the problem. ‘Commercial’, you’re a businessman, that means for profit. We don’t do commerce just because its fun. We do it to make money. So commercial defines this as a business motivated practice. ‘Commercial sexual exploitation’ the term ‘sexual exploitation’ easily defines the experience that the child of youth went through, so they were exploited, exploitation, someone used you to make a profit, to gain something for them. And ‘of children’ of course defines the fact that this is a minor, and there are lots of issues around the age of when does something become more responsible or less responsible, but commercial sexual exploitation of children is being used more and more in the law enforcement world, but were also hearing a term being used in federal language. ‘Domestic sex trafficking of minors.’ I believe that this emerged as a term because we already had attention and knowledge about sex trafficking in general globally, and the state department report that has been out since 2000 on trafficking defines sex trafficking and labor trafficking severe forms of trafficking of persons so using that sex trafficking terminology, was a natural sequence there. So when we use to term domestic minor sex trafficking, congress had hearings on this and at the federal level at the policy discourse, the use of the term ‘youth prostitute or ‘teenage prostitute’ is not used because they are inaccurate and misleading descriptions of a social problem, and so the congressional hearings have normalized using ‘domestic minor sex trafficking’ and we hear that terminology, there is a domestic minor sex trafficking report that was funded and shared, Hope International produced that, that’s a great report to look at to get an idea of what’s going on right here in the United States, so when you are doing searches and doing lots of research, and we get lots of calls from students and graduate researchers, you are going to be searching for commercial sexual exploitation of children and also domestic minor sex trafficking. So these kids of labels help us frame this as something other that prostitution, and you know Dave, you are going to represent the every day man. What is a prostitute? What does that mean when you hear that term.

Dave: Well I think that the thing that comes to my mind most often is you know, somebody out on the street corner somewhere, I think of Las Vegas just because we live 3 or 4 hours from it here in Southern California, and I think of people going to Las Vegas and when I got there, seeing people on the streets and you know, I typically think of something that’s older that the population that we’ve been talking about on this show. So that’s what comes to mind for me and that’s the image that comes into my mind.

Sandie: And the problem with using the term prostitution is that it assigns a lot of cultural baggage for a 14-year-old. Lets just use a 14 year old as an example. Because you we say, “well, if she dressed like that, what does she expect?” and the point that we want to make here is that she is a child, and we do have legal protections for her no matter how she dresses.

Dave: It’s really interesting to hear you say that, Sandie, and I am sorry to interrupt you, but before I knew you and was more knowledgeable about this issue, I think that if I had stopped to think about it, that hearing about a 14 or 15 year old prostitute would really have been something to give me a lot of pause, but I am embarrassed to say that when you hear the term ‘teen prostitute’ you think of someone who has made some really poor choices, and that’s the kind of bucket that I would have put it into prior to my education by you of how things really do happen, so I do think that word comes with a lot of baggage and a lot of assumptions about what that person did and poor choices that that person did to get into that kind of situation versus someone like the language we are using, that was really exploited as we know now, and I know now that more often than not in many cases that person has been the victim of exploitation and so it really is a term that comes with a lot of baggage.

Sandie: And the fact that you used the word ‘choice’ indicates that this 14 year old has the ability and the agency to make decisions that would impact her health for the future, her social welfare for the future, her education, all those kinds of things and we identify children as needing protection, as needing guidelines and then we cast her off as ‘well, this is a choice that she made.’

Dave: Yeah and it’s funny when you think about it through that lens too, Sandie, a 17 year old can’t go on a field trip from school without a signed permission slip, but apparently can make choices to become a prostitute and we think nothing of those differences because of the language society uses around it so it is really, it is sort of a double edged sword.

Sandie: Exactly, and we are beginning to recognize that Megan Anito at the Center for Law and Public Service at West Virginia University College of Law, she says this, “The juxtaposition of statutory rape laws with the prosecution of juveniles for prostitution demonstrates a literal clash in the way American society addresses the sexual victimization of children. Children’s ability to consent,” think about signing that field trip form, “ability to legal consent, and societal expectations about behavior according to gender by prosecuting exploited children, current laws and practices contradict one another and fail to assist the significant numbers of youth sold on the street, on the internet, in strip clubs and otherwise sold for sex.” So we criminalize children and we find ways to say they made bad choices, they made poor choices. That, if it took place in a different context then we would see them as victims, but as long as we continue to use terminology that includes the word ‘prostitute’ we are going to lay blame and responsibility at their door.

Dave: And most people that I know, Sandie, would use that terminology and who even are very well educated people and know about the world and its troubles would often use that terminology, and I think we’ve really hit on something big here that does really define the challenges we all have and how we process this issue and how we have conversation and dialogue about this issue and how we start to resolve this issue too.

Sandie: Well the label that we give them will determine what kind of services they qualify for, so for instance, if we use terminology that includes the ability to prosecute for juvenile prostitution, then this becomes a delinquency case, and now we are going to put her into a juvenile delinquency facility, she will as Karissa Phelps told us, who is a survivor and who speaks up for this particular issue of being labeled a ‘teen prostitute’ I thought they were going to help me and instead, I am in prison, and I am wearing only the clothes that they give me and I have to stand in line and all of these things that are demeaning and humiliating so her experience was that being rescued in some sense, because now she was taken away from the pimp, taken away from the trafficker, really didn’t change her sense of feeling trapped and controlled, and how does that label and impact your future because it follows you. You’ve been picked up, you’ve been charged, you’ve been prosecuted, this follows you form the rest of your life, and there is a move to pass laws that will expunge and seal those records and that’s for another show and we can invite an attorney to talk to us about that. But the idea that by how we label these kids we can convert a case form a delinquency case to a child welfare matter. So the word that you choose, decides whether this is going to be a child welfare matter.

Dave: I think back to our conversation with Tamara from last episode, Sandie, and how her perspective changed as she started to see some of these children show up in her courtroom and just how she defined the issue and looked at the issue and the label she started to use when she was considering these cases and how to approach these cases really did changed not only the way she approached it but has also changed now the way that her office and the legal system has approached it as well as not just looking at this as a criminal situation for the child, but to really look at the larger issues that are going on.

Sandie: And we have heard, and bringing up Tamara is so valuable too, because we talked a little bit about changing the terminology from juvenile prostitution to maybe some kind of calling them a victim offender, but there is another term she mentioned to us as well, status offenders. And rather than being designated as delinquents, a status offender is defined as ‘persons in need of supervision.’ I think Tamara used the term ‘PINS’ which is the abbreviated version of ‘person in need of supervision.’ Well, I will tell you what, a 14 year old girl standing on a street corner, her pimp in the background watching and overseeing and then collecting the money afterwards, this little girl is in need of supervision, not in need of punishment. So how do we do that? And supervision is contained, there is a sense of ‘you don’t have the freedom to move’ if you are being supervised.

Dave: Yes.

Sandie: We don’t let kids leave the playground, we have a playground supervisor that makes sure kids are safe, so as a child welfare issue and being treated as a victim doesn’t mean that we are not going to keep them safe. Because if you rescue a child and they are not put in a safe place, not retained for their own good, it would be much like rescuing dogs from a dog pound and then just turning them loose. Then what happens to them? They become sick and all kinds of other things, so we have to have a plan for how we are going to treat these kids from a child welfare perspective. And seeing them as status offenders means then that they are going to get support from social service agencies in your local and state government, so status offender is a person in need of supervision, I love that term, a person in need of supervision.

Dave: Certainly, a very different term that a child prostitute or a teen prostitute or whatever another label-

Sandie: Or juvenile delinquent?

Dave: Yeah, yeah, person in need of supervision is a lot more representative of the term that describes what really does need to happen.

Sandie: And this is a huge revolution in our legal system locally, statewide and nationally, and one of the leading states on this is Illinois, which is the first state-

Dave: Hooray for Illinois.

Sandie: Oh, that’s right! You’re from Illinois.

Dave: I am.

Sandie: Well, then you can be really proud because from our perspective, I am very happy to tell you that Illinois is the first state to make all children under 18 completely immune from prosecution from prostitution.

Dave: Oh, interesting.

Sandie: Yeah, put that on your Facebook page, Dave Stachowiak.

Dave: I will run there as soon as we are done.

Sandie: Yeah okay, okay. Now, the reason why it is so important for us to start using such different terminology is because every one of us contributes to those social services in some way. Because of our language, we create the community that our social services in our community responds to, so whether we are a school teacher, school nurse, someone who runs the front desk at a hotel or a child counselor, we have a responsibility to promote the use of appropriate terminology. Consider this, when a clinician that works with this population says to a law enforcement person, ‘well, yeah, the first time maybe, she was a victim. But after that and the next time and the next time then its her choice.’ Well, why is it her choice? What is that about? And we have already talked about what happens with manipulation and coercion and the use of coercion.

Dave: Sure.

Sandie: So, this is really an illusion that she actually has choice. How do we change the way, though, that that clinician, that practitioner walks into the room with that status offender.

Dave: I think this really speaks to the importance, Sandie, of what we do at the Global Center for Women and Justice, which is to study the issues, because it is very easy to just utilize the common terms that society uses for the situations and because of using those commonly held terms, it really does set the stage for a much different conversation of how we approach these issues and you know, when you are using the word ‘teen prostitute’ that brings a lot of assumptions along with it and really dictates also, as importantly if not more so importantly the decisions that are made when you are using that type of terminology about that person or child, so just the importance of education not only in developing our knowledge but helping others to really raise awareness around this issue too is just critical.

Sandie: That’s why, because we are talking about educating society, were talking about changing the way we all talk about this, not just changing the way it looks like for law enforcement or prosecutors, we have to change the way it looks and sounds in our media, in our newsprint, on our radio stations, on our TV news, on your iPad, so that media, and I have given a report, interviews to reporters and I have explicitly used them to use the term ‘commercial sexual exploitation of children’ and then the article comes out and it says ‘teen prostitute’ and then those words look like they’re coming from my mouth and they’re not, and the writer of the article calls me up and says, “My editor changed it.” Now, the editor’s job is to keep the space limits, I understand that, but ultimately media is for profit, and consequently, if they are looking for increasing the traffic at their website, the number of people who watch their program or read their paper, then their numbers are going to increase when they have more highly…

Dave: Highly charged words?
Sandie: Yeah, almost to use an old-fashioned word, titillation. And it appeals to people, ‘oh that sounds really awful.’ In community groups, when I talk to them about hosting a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation of children, then I see the flyer, ‘former teen prostitute’ community organizations; more people will come if we use that terminology.

Dave: So, it’s almost like they are being exploited again, really.

Sandie: Yeah, yeah then does that make the people who are using that to get more attention for their product or their program or their event, does that make them complicit in that exploitation, that re-exploitation? Those are questions we have to ask ourselves.

Dave: Yeah, it’s really complicated, Sandie, and I don’t know if I would have even, if that would have even crossed my mind before I met you, to have thought about the distinctions between those two things and we all do this, all of us, as we look for the right language that is going to attract people to do this, I think about it form our organization, when we post things on our website that are unrelated to human trafficking but when we are trying to get traffic on our blog, we think a lot about what is the headline that we use, on a title, or a website, because we know people re going to make different decisions based on the headline they see, and boy, this comes right into play on this issue too, though. Depending on the terminology we are using, we potentially are victimizing that person again.

Sandie: And I always go back to when I lived in Greece and was working on this same issue in Europe, the head of the task force in Sweden was presenting to us and showed a newspaper with a headline in Stockholm that said, ‘Child Selling Sex on the Streets.’ And he put a big ‘X’ on the headline of that newspaper that he had just translated for us and he said, “what it should have said was ‘Swedish men buying sex from a child.’”  Buying sex from a child. That is what the real headline is. Well, one of the really important things to understand is that with this exploitation, lives are fractured, there is chronic indignity, sexually transmitted diseases, PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, and at our last conference, one of our workshop leaders, Amelia Frank Meyer talked to us about why are we blaming the victim? And what is their experience? So we invited her for our next podcast, we are going to do an interview with Amelia.

Dave: Oh, good.

Sandie: So, we’ll talk more so we can better understand whom this child is.

Dave: And so, she will be with us for our next episode, which I think will be episode number 28, right? Cause this is episode number 17 if I’ve got my numbers right.

Sandie: Were doing good.

Dave: Hey, you know anytime we can add numbers correctly, Sandie, that’s a good thing for both of us. Hey, you know before we jump off today, just a reminder to our audience that if you have comments or questions about anything related to human trafficking, we really are here to serve you and we’d really like to engage with you and if you have been a listener to this show for any length of time, whether this is the first time you’ve listened to the show or maybe you’ve listened to all 27 episodes with us, wed really like to hear from you. There are couple ways you can do that, again you can email us at Gcwj@vanguard.edu, that is the email address for the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University and of course you can call us and our listener hotline is (714) 966-6361, and also just a real quick reminder that if you have found value from this show, help us to reach more folks and really educate them on these issues and you can do that by hopping onto iTunes if you are an iTunes user and leave us a good review. Tell us what you think of the show and help us to reach more folks.

Sandie: And we want to end human trafficking, right Dave?
Dave: We do and we can’t do it alone, so if we can get your help in reaching out to others and connecting with us and building relationships, we are much more likely to make good tractions against a very, very difficult issue. So, Sandie, I am glad to have been with you here again and we will see you again in 2 weeks for our interview.

Sandie: Okay, thanks. Bye-bye.

Dave: Take care, everyone.

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