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Sex Trafficking: A Media Guide

This isn't sex trafficking. (An image used in a campaign for anti-trafficking organization Voices for Dignity, by Flickr user dualflipflop)
This isn’t sex trafficking. (An image used in a campaign for anti-trafficking organization Voices for Dignity, by Flickr user dualdflipflop)

Sex trafficking is when evil men steal little girls from the mall and keep them chained to beds where they are forced to service 100 men a day. Sex trafficking is when you ask your husband to sit in the next room while you see a new client, just in case. Sex trafficking is when a child molester agrees to pay for sex with a hypothetical, nonexistent eight-year-old and then shows up to meet them with duct tape and handcuffs. Sex trafficking is when a client asks for a duo and you book an appointment for yourself and a friend. Sex trafficking is when you “conspire” with your rapist and kidnapper to torture yourself. Sex trafficking is when you place an escort ad online for yourself.

Words mean things. Sex trafficking is a legal term with many different definitions in different states and countries. The legal term has become confused with the common mainstream usage—which tends to involve people being forced into prostitution—and this has led to a lot of confusion all around. As journalists, our job is to be precise with language and provide accurate information to the public. When reporting on sex trafficking, or sex trafficking cases, consider describing what has been alleged or what the statute the person is being charged with actually says—because it rarely refers to people being forced into prostitution.

So Long, Gawker, Thanks For the Coverage and the Bylines

Visual approximation of what Hulk Hogan probably feels like. This is purely satire, please do not sue us Mr. Hogan.
Visual approximation of what Hulk Hogan probably feels like. This is purely satire. Please do not sue us, Mr. Hogan.

In the early 00s when I was in journalism school, my professors were feebly trying to bestow me and my fellow students with the skills required to work in print media. Sure, they said, the future of journalism is online. But none of them could quantify what that meant or how to teach it.  The school’s curriculum was a great foundation, I guess, but by the time I was done, my skill set was already outdated. I was a media dinosaur.

So I studied Gawker Media. Gawker, and Gawker’s sister sites, presented the framework for what writing online could look like—objective and sarcastic.  I suspect anyone who has ever dabbled in independent publishing online is feeling a bit sentimental this week. Almost every writer has a favorite Gawker story. They certainly remember the Gawker story they were most scandalized by.

One thing I think Gawker and its sister sites deserve credit for is consistently covering sex work and giving sex workers bylines.