Let’s have a little conversation about the word “recruit.”

Human trafficking and exploitation is really about three things: Power, control, and profit. If someone has experienced trafficking and exploitation, they know what it is like to be owned. They know what it is like to have someone else gain from their pain, labor, and body. They know what it is like to be treated like a product, as though they are not human, as though their worth is only defined by what they do and how much others benefit from it.

What does it mean if you are trying to recruit an athlete for your team? Or a soldier for the US army?
Let’s go with soldier for the US army, because this is a concept most can grasp and one that is often brought up when we talk about PTSD.

What happens to a person when they enlist (something they potentially do consensually, though not always without coercion…though we’re not ready for that conversation just yet)? They are stripped of their own identity, their uniqueness. They are told what to wear, how to cut their hair, how to wear the clothes they are required to wear. They are told where to sleep, how to make their beds, what they can sleep in, when they can sleep and for how long. They are told what to eat, when and where they can eat, for how long and with what utensils. They are told how to stand, how to sit, how to…everything. Many of the things they are allowed to use and wear are stamped with “property of US Army” to identify them as a recruit, as someone who belongs to the branch of military.

Now, there obviously are differences here, but let’s take a moment and think about this. Once enlisted, the soldier literally does not belong to themselves. How they are treated is up to the person “in charge,” someone who had to “come up through the ranks,” in order to represent the US military. That soldier is expected, and “drilled,” to follow orders without question.

To recruit is to identify someone who’s skills or abilities fit an agenda that you have, and enlist them to do your bidding and to represent you in the way that you want them to. Their discomfort be damned.

Recruitment is about the recruiters needs, not the recruited.

For people who have experienced trafficking and exploitation, being owned is par for the course. We aren’t people. We don’t belong to ourselves. Often our thoughts aren’t even our own.

So when someone who says they are there to help us, uses “recruit” it really isn’t a stretch to understand that what they really mean is “come and put your stamp on this, so I can say I and my organization are “survivor informed.””
Take a moment and reflect. What happens in your mind when you say “I need to recruit someone to do ” versus “I need to partner with someone to help with __”

That’s a huge shift right?

Now take it a step further and think about how this shift might feel from the outside. From the perspective of someone who knows what it is like to be “property of” and to have no say in what they do or how they do it. Think about overhearing someone in an organization that says they are there to help saying “we’re recruiting survivors to find out what kind of programs we need to build,” how does this set for you? Even if there is compensation, which to be honest isn’t a given and it really should be, does this make you believe that the organization is there for you?

Think about then overhearing someone in an organization that says they are there to help saying “we are hoping to partner with survivors to figure out what kind of programs would be most helpful for them.”

Let that sit for a moment, then make a note and stick it on your computer “stop using the word “recruit” even in conversation.”

Some folks are going to ask the question about whether or not there is a time to use the word recruit. For example, when talking about people who traffic and exploit, is using the term “recruit” appropriate?

Let’s take a pause here, and breathe deeply.

Now, remember that people who engage in trafficking and exploiting others may not be doing so freely, as in, they may also not have a real choice in the matter. Remember that traffickers use tactics quite similar to the army in order to power over and control the people they are trafficking and exploiting. If that person who is experiencing or has experienced trafficking and exploitation is told the expectation is to “bring in someone new,” we refer to that action as “recruiting.”

Take a deep breath.

People who engage in or benefit from trafficking and exploitation use tactics we typically refer to as recruitment tactics, that’s true. We need to take a moment and look beyond that simple and weighty word. We need to start thinking about what we really mean when we use it, and how that sets for others. We need to start listening to survivors, and looking for other words that mean what we want them to mean. And start using them.

Take a deep breath.

Look at that sticky note on your computer.

If you mean that you are asking survivors to come on board and do what you want them to do, the way you want them to do it, as property of you: Use “recruit.”

But if that’s not what you mean…