Language Frames the Issue

When you hear the term “child/teen prostitute” what do you think of? Do you imagine an adolescent who is choosing this lifestyle? Maybe you think of a young female who is “scamming” people with her pimp or a child who is a “delinquent” or “trouble-maker”? What about when you hear the term “victim of sexual exploitation”? Does that change what you think of?

Language frames the issue of sexual exploitation. It is inherently problematic when people refer to victims of sexual exploitation as “child prostitutes”. A child/teenager cannot be a prostitute - using this language places blame on the child, who is a victim of sexual exploitation. This language also revictimizes the person - the language we use to talk about the exploitation of children can be crucial to their recovery. So, how can you interrupt problematic language?

Interrupting problematic language can feel daunting, and that’s expected! With practice, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to educate others about problematic language.

Ask a question. “What do you mean by ‘child prostitute’?”

When you hear someone use problematic language, ask them about it. This allows the person to stop for a moment and process what they just said. The person may change their language on their own. If the person doesn’t understand why their language was problematic, keep asking questions. “Do you think that a child can be a prostitute? Really think about what you just said.”

Educate the person. “A child cannot be a prostitute - a more appropriate way to say that would be that the child is a victim of sexual exploitation.”

If you are a service provider, chances are that your friends and family have not been educated on the topic of sexual exploitation as you have. Use this as an opportunity to educate others about the issue. This not only opens the conversation for more language to be unpacked, but it also shows the person that you are willing to spend the time to inform them on important issues.

Assume positive intent. “I know you weren’t meaning to be offensive, but…”

Think about intent vs. impact. People may react negatively when they feel they were taken out of context (“OMG I didn’t mean that!!”), but it’s important to let the person know that even though they may not have meant to be offensive...they still were. By assuming positive intent, it feels less like an “attack” on the other person, and they may be more receptive to feedback.

Practice makes perfect! Try practicing ways to interrupt problematic language with close friends in settings that feel safe to you. As you start to improve your skills, you will be more confident in your ability to create change!


What’s New at Real Life Advocacy?

In June, Real Life Advocacy went to Seattle to learn about the sexual exploitation of boys, motivational interviewing and attend Train the Trainer. This means that we can present Responding to the Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Youth, a fantastic training designed by Leslie Briner in King County, who has been doing this work for over fifteen years. This specific training can be customized to fit the needs of your agency - it can be anywhere from 90 minutes to an all day training (six hours), depending on how much content you’d like.


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Want to learn more about how you can help?

Advocates welcome individuals of all ages and genders. Our services are free & confidential*. An advocate can help you with staying safe, finding resources, and can provide a safe and judgement free environment to talk about what you’re going through. We can also provide free safe sex kits, (condoms, the morning after pill, pregnancy tests, etc.). Contact Stacey at 360.703.3762 ext. 20 or or Caleb at ext. 16 or

*We follow all mandatory reporting laws.

Advocates are available to provide information about how to recognize common signs of sex trafficking and education to schools, businesses, organizations, churches, etc. to help you learn how to safely respond and report to police and/or the National Human Trafficking Hotline.


To request a free presentation, contact Stacey at or 360.703.3762 ext. 20.

To report suspected trafficking or to get assistance, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline anytime of day at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733.