Human Trafficking and Media: New Opportunities from Slow Progress

by Elise Garvey and Amy Turner

My colleagues over at The Human Trafficking Project (HTP) and I have swapped blogs for the day to share our views about human trafficking and the media.  HTP is an excellent blog on the topic of trafficking, and I highly encourage you to check them out and read them! 

htp-logo1The topic of Media and it’s role in exposing and raising awareness about trafficking has taken an international stage. Just last year at the UNGIFT Vienna Forum in Austria, an entire session was devoted to the role of the arts and what artists and filmmakers are doing to make a difference.

Thanks to the recent release of movies like “Trade” and “Slumdog Millionaire“, we are starting to see Human Trafficking brought to the forefront. Hollywood deserves a certain amount of credit for bringing an important issue to the attention of millions of people who may have been unaware of its existence. It at least, even in its most sensationalized forms, is creating a lot of questions and conversations about the facts.

Perhaps one of our biggest concerns at HTP is that the type of human trafficking covered in not only films, but also news media tends to be one type of trafficking: Asian or Latin American women being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, despite the horror behind this type of trafficking, it is only one of many different forms of trafficking and only a few of the many different types of victims. As long as people are only exposed to these movies and news features, African victims of domestic servitude are going unnoticed; Indigenous farmers of Mexico continue to be exploited on U.S. farms and disabled elderly and children continue to beg on the streets for the trafficker’s profit.

The media has an obligation and the opportunity to educate people on trafficking and how to spot it. As a member of a local anti-trafficking organization, I (Elise) can tell you that victims have been brought to the attention of victim service providers by educated and caring people on the streets: people who were aware of the problem and knew when something wasn’t right. This is a real opportunity for the media to help! It is not to say that the type of trafficking covered so far by media outlets is unworthy of coverage, but rather that the problem is too large to ignore the rest.

For example, in some media resources, they portray some victims of trafficking as willing participants (as an example) and, blaming the victim is not limited to US media.  It is sometimes difficult to explain that kidnapping is a rare form of recruitment by traffickers, and that just because a victim willingly left their home city or village, they did not consent to exploitation and abuse.

The promise of the media coverage is that there is an uprising of people conducting research and becoming more active in the field. Perhaps the media isn’t entirely to blame for their sensationalism: we are all charged to become aware of the extent of the types of exploitation that exist; we are all charged to become aware that it is happening in our communities, no matter where you are reading this from right now. And we have an obligation to do something about it. Thanks for reading.


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