With human trafficking the “hot word” of the day, countless news articles fill our papers, alerts and timelines with incredible stories of survival and extreme trauma. While the goal of this media coverage is bringing awareness to the complexities, severity, and extent of occurrences here in America, even the best of intentions can bring unintended consequences. When sharing stories of survival, it is important to do so responsibly. There are numerous ways to do this, however some of the most effective and simple ways are to avoid focusing on:
- Stereotyped assumption of what a victim looks like. A focus on a physical description or presumed personal background can be misleading as individuals who end up being trafficked come in all shapes and sizes, and from all backgrounds.
- Anything that can be interpreted as a “tip”. A well-intentioned story can turn into a how-to for someone to follow.
- Graphic images and gritty details. Research strongly suggests that testimonials which dramatize dangerous activities can provoke a “race to the bottom” among those trapped in similar situations.
- The numbers game. While the media will forever be in search of a story with the biggest numbers, it communicates to victims that if they do not have a numerically equal experience, their story doesn’t count. One day, one experience against a person’s will is one too many.
Stories can be effectively and responsibly told by focusing on the mental and physical consequences of being trafficked, rather than the specific behaviors and actions. Trafficking is glamorized in our pop culture today, without people even really being aware of what is going on. This threatens to not only inaccurately portray trafficking, but it can also give the false impression that if the victim only had enough will-power, self-control, or common sense, they could overcome their situation on their own. Understanding the seriousness of trafficking without portraying it as hopeless is absolutely possible when we share stories of survival responsibly.