Sex Trafficking Victims Need Support, Not “Rescue”

cape-480x639I often write and speak about “mutuality vs. rescue” in my work and how this idea of “rescuing” trafficking victims can revictimize the very people we intend to assist. “Rescue” reinforces the notion that once a person is “removed” from trafficking, then the danger is over. This perspective misses the point that trafficking is a manifestation of a system of violence that creates both supply and demand. 

This insightful blog post “Take Off the Cape: Why the Word ‘Rescue’ is Harmful to Anti-Trafficking Efforts” is an excellent addition to the conversation about “rescue” and how best not just to serve trafficking victims, but also to end human trafficking. Enjoy. KP

When I came to the human trafficking field from working on domestic and sexual violence, I was shocked by a lot of things. It was disturbing to learn about the various ways traffickers abuse and exploit victims for labor and sex and surprising to see how frequently human trafficking intersected directly with intimate partner violence, sex assault and child abuse.

However, a different type of unsettling surprise for me came not from the crime itself, but from the terminology used to discuss it. More specifically, I was shocked by how commonly the word “rescue” was used to describe identifying and assisting victims and survivors of human trafficking.

This was so foreign to me because in the domestic and sexual violence fields it would be unthinkable to refer to victim identification and assistance as a “rescue” or “rescue mission.” I can only imagine the faces of my former colleagues if I had said that my work with an individual had “rescued” them from their abuser. There would have been some serious questioning of my ability to provide appropriate, trauma-informed services to that person without doing considerable harm as well as my motives for doing the work in the first place.

Having come from disciplines where the use of this term would be seen as highly inappropriate and demeaning to a victim or survivor of crime, it was very odd to me that “rescue” was a term used not only in everyday language around the issue but also in awareness and education, news media and even in the names of anti-trafficking organizations and programs. Although “rescue” is a word that evokes images of life-saving missions to pull people from a burning building, I soon found out that the anti-trafficking field had essentially reclaimed the word to convey uniqueness in the ways trafficking victims are identified and given assistance. (Excerpt, Becky Owens-Bullard’s 7/24/14 Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance blog post)

Read the full post


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