Hit & Run

Sensitivity Lessons with the U.S. State Department

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The State Department doesn't like the term sex worker:

The office combating human trafficking issued a directive Friday to US agencies urging them to avoid using terms "sex worker" or "child sex worker" and even advised governments not to use them.

"Of course, one can rationalize words such as 'sex worker' and "child sex worker" in an effort to avoid a demeaning label such as 'prostitute," said John Miller, the office's director.

"However, there are other substitutes such as 'women used in prostitution' or 'sexually exploited children' that are neither pejorative nor pretend that violence to women and children is 'work,'" said Miller, who retired Friday after campaigning extensively across the globe to stem the human trafficking problem.

"What is occurring is the use of the language to justify modern-day slavery, to dignify the perpetrators and the industries who enslave," he said.

Women used in prostitution. I generally hesitate to accuse anyone of "objectifying" women, but refusing to associate them with active verbs qualifies as sufficiently demeaning. And even if we were to grant that sex workers are by definition victims, as Miller prefers, the supposed need to switch terms is hard to understand. I think child soldiers are victims. Do I have to call them children used by war? Isn't the reality of the situation disturbing enough without the added offense to Strunk and White?

The effort to control language is part of a larger campaign to conflate sex slavery with good old-fashioned hooking, making it easier for officials to use horrifying tales of the former in their campaign against the latter. John Miller, who is being used by the State Department to promulgate anti-prostitution policies all over the world, considers all sex workers to be slaves -- whether they're Manhattan call girls or trafficked Cambodian children. It's hard to know what slavery even means in this context, given that it bears no relation to the concept of consent.

Whole State Department song and dance here.