Put a label on it

The label is our constant security blanket.  We constantly label people, places and things. Pronouncing a hundred or a thousand judgments a day with our words.   When we say, “she looks like a prostitute.”  We are saying something about ourselves.  We are saying she is outcast, other, and not valuable. We are sawing we are better. We sadly make assumptions about the personhood and value of the woman based on the clothes she is wearing.  

When we call women prostitutes, we are creating an, them, and us scenario.  We are stealing dignity from a woman, maybe a mother, and someone’s daughter who may at this point in her journey find herself in a situation where she is either prostituting herself or being prostituted by another.  She is woman, a person, a created being who is prostituted. She is the noun—personal pronoun, and the verb or action is to be prostituted.  She is not the entire sum of her actions.  Her actions are apart of what she does but not who she is in entirety. 

Even in the world of Advocacy against Sex trafficking and prostitution we do not know how to use language well. We talk draw the differentiation between the prostitutes (women 18 and older) and girls who are trafficked (sold, underage, did not make this choice).  We easily draw a line between those we perceive as vulnerable and those we perceive as choosing something for themselves.

A woman involved in prostitution may be there for many reasons.  The women in majority world may find themselves vulnerable to trafficking or forced to make a hard choice because of poverty.  The women in the western contexts may prostitute themselves because of addiction, poverty or mental illness or supposed choice.  What is true about all women who are prostituted or who prostitute is that they are vulnerable people.  Their circumstances have created a lack of options that make them targets and easily exploitable.

Many advocacy organizations, advocate poorly, rather than educating and reframing the language, labels are used to differentiate. The historical, multicultural and international conversation is narrowed to two words: victim and prostitute. We want to help the victim and assume the prostitute chose this dark path. Who really chooses this path? Who dreams of being raped bloody she is 19 years old? Or being murdered by a customer when she 30?  We have forgotten the women who may not have been rescued, who moved beyond the age of rescue 10 years ago when no one cared about trafficking. Now having moved beyond being “underage” it has somehow become their choice, an identity marker that no longer deserves our advocacy or compassion.  From victim (one who is victimized) to one whom we call prostitute (one who is prostituted) is not a very long journey.

When we call things by their right names and use language that honors the dignity of personhood, humanness, we reveal a spotlight on something that has been in darkness.  We recognize the value of human life no matter what it’s condition and honor the divine imprint on humanity.

We are broken.  We will not fix this by choosing a side and labeling them. God helps us if we are labeled as the sum of our worst actions and behaviors.  Liar, thief, narcissist, porn addict, manipulator, adulterer, slut…

Can we choose to heal, reconcile, redeem and restore?  Can we do that using dignifying language? Can we do it through partnership and incarnation?  Can we do it without choosing to use a label?

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