Every word matters

If you are a journalism student on any college campus, you were more than likely informed by a professor that The Associated Press Stylebook  would be your new BFF.

I mean, who else could you turn to in those perilous moments of trying to figure out if you should write out the number nine or simply use the “9” on the keyboard?  And what about formal titles?  They can be a killer.  Should  you always capitalize the word governor or president?  Just ask your BFF.


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Recently, members of the American Copy Editors Society gathered for their annual conference in Portland, Oregon.  I’m sure this event is more fun than it sounds.  After all, attendees are among the first to hear about the changes being made to the AP Stylebook!

Since the average person may not know that such a book even exists, it is understandable that he/she would not comprehend how decisions and changes to this book actually have an effect on their life.  I admit that it sounds like a foolish notion even as I type the words.

But it’s true.  Every word matters, especially for journalists.  And in this case, words matter for children and teens that are victims of sex trafficking.

Columbia Journalism Review reported that journalists should not use the word “prostitute” in conjunction with the word “child” or “teenager.”  In other words, phrases such as “child prostitution” or “teenage prostitution” should be avoided.  By definition, prostitution assumes that the individual is choosing to solicit themselves sexually for money.  What child or teenager is actually choosing to do this by their own free will?

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it can be easy to make broad generalizations when it comes to prostitution among young people.  It’s easy to assume that these kids are just troubled or rebellious.  After all, if they don’t want this lifestyle, all they have to do is walk away and start fresh somewhere else.

As a society, we are no longer surprised when we see the words “child prostitution” or “teenage prostitution” in print.  The shock value is long gone.  Is it possible that seeing and hearing these two words side by side for so long has numbed our thinking when it comes to issues that are linked to sex trafficking?

If we remain numb or unmoved regarding this issue, we will not be compelled to do anything about it.  And in order to be compelled, we need to be willing to think differently about these issues.  And in order to think differently, we need to challenge our assumptions and judgements, recognizing that they may be born out of simple ignorance.

Journalists have an integral role in helping to educate and inform their audiences.  By no longer linking together the words “child” and “prostitution,” they are playing their part in  helping to bring clarity and truth to a difficult issue.  It’s a small change that over time, may make a big difference in how people begin to think about prostitution and the link it has to sex trafficking.

Because after all, every word matters.



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