Why We Don’t Use the Word “Rescue”

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By Laura Ng, Executive Director

The moment the word “rescue” is used, a power dynamic is created and autonomy is removed.

Much of what we battle against as advocates is how the truth is so often misconstrued in the media through the use of images and story lines that sensationalize, or even glorify, what human trafficking looks like – particularly sex trafficking. However, we as organizations also have a responsibility to not exaggerate just what it is we do for the individuals we serve – rarely in the areas we work in are we truly doing “rescues.”

What organizations like Traffick Free are providing might include emergency transportation, outreach, and other forms of assistance. What we do not often see are individuals who are locked up, chained, or otherwise physically constrained. While we understand the dynamics of trauma bonds, threats and force are used to mentally and emotionally constrain someone, what we provide is space for an individual to work through and break free of that constraint themselves. Furthermore, what we never hear in their process is “thank you for rescuing me.”

We recognize that true rescues may happen when an individual, especially a young child, is held against their will and has no freedom of movement. However, by the time an organization like Traffick Free has a chance to engage with someone who has been a victim of sex trafficking, it is likely the lack of choice that they perceive is present, due to those trauma bonds, threats or force, that keeps them in “the Life.”

Using the word “rescue” might attract donors and volunteers but it also creates a savior complex that is misplaced. Within organizations that use this rhetoric, when that language is passed onto staff and volunteers, an implicit bias of power has the risk of settling and the clients that are served continue to be seen through a lens of “I helped them get to where they are” instead of celebrating “they got to where they are through the hard work and choices they made.” Clearly, the former statement maintains a power dynamic and the latter acknowledges the participant’s autonomy.

Traffick Free’s stance on this is not new. We acknowledge that several of our partners also stay away from sensationalized language and properly identify their role in each participant’s life. It is only through learning and listening to each other that collaboration is truly effective and can lead to evidence-based approaches to service in this fairly new field of anti-human trafficking.