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Use Victim Sensitive & Human Trafficking-Specific Language

Prosecutors know that in any adversarial proceeding, the party that successfully frames the question usually wins the debate, and human trafficking cases are no exception. When writing investigative reports or presenting a human trafficking case in court, investigators and prosecutors should use victim-sensitive language and choose themes in their case that convey an understanding of the control that the defendants exert on their victims.

  • During the investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking cases, investigators and prosecutors should prepare in advance of an interview to understand terms to which the potential victim responds or with which the victim identifies. Terms within the sex trafficking arena are loaded; “prostitutes,” “commercially sexually exploited,” and a variety of other terms have different connotations and use of one over another can either help build rapport or create barriers in establishing rapport with a potential victim.
  • Likewise, references to “slavery” or the term “human trafficking” itself should be used with caution. The word “trafficking” unfortunately implies movement, which is not an element of most human trafficking offenses. The word “slavery” often conjures up images of physical rather than psychological restraints, and physical control may or may not be a part of the prosecutor’s evidence (e.g., the offenders did not use “chains” to control their victims). In a very real way, the use of words matters in human trafficking cases, and law enforcement must recognize this fact in their work.


For additional information and tools, visit the Resource Page 5.5 Strategies for Prosecution and Law Enforcement.