Are You Sensationalizing the Anti-Trafficking Movement?

Are you sensationalizing the anti-trafficking movement? STOP IT!

Helpful tips for advocates in the anti-trafficking movement:

We have all seen it. Most of us have probably been guilty of this at some level. The images of girls, beaten, in chains, stuffed in mason jars or in a clear suitcase.

Sensationalism is a phenomenon often found within media research, where it is studied for how it affects viewers and their behavior. Often criticized within journalistic practices, sensationalism is a method by which a producer of information attempts to draw the attention of the consumer of such information. It is typically “defined in terms of its capability to provoke attention or arousal responses in viewers.”

To date, the issue of human trafficking/modern day slavery has reached more ears than ever before. In the last 5 or so years we have witnessed this largely hidden industry move from hardly anyone knowing this was something that was taking place here in the USA, to entire nation-wide movements and the President of the United States issuing an executive order.

All of this attention on this criminal industry has its advantages and disadvantages. Today I wanted to talk about the disadvantage of over-sensationalizing human trafficking.

At the onset of the “Abolitionist Movement,” understandably, there was little said about HOW people should get the message out, they were just concerned that the message got out, and that victims had a safe place to recover and receive services. Years later, I think it is time perhaps for all of us in the anti-trafficking movement to take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions about what we are actually accomplishing in our delivery of information to communities about this issue at home and abroad.

The goal of this blog is to simply start the conversation and then pose a few questions that could serve as guidelines we can follow to determine whether or not we are being realistic in our presentation of the issue as an advocate or a non-profit.

Here are a few questions that I use as a guideline before I post, tweet or add to a PowerPoint presentation that I hope are helpful:

  1. Is the image I am using honoring the actual victims of human trafficking? An example of a bad one is the one I used in this blog.
  2. Is the image or stat I am using an accurate picture of what trafficking actually looks like, or it is exaggerated for shock factor?
  3. Does my audience NEED to know this or see this in order for them to do something about this issue? If not, don’t use it, and don’t tell it.

When you think about the widespread issue of Breast Cancer, what are the prominent images that come to mind?

  • Pink Ribbons
  • Awareness Month
  • Run 4 the Cure

There was never a time when I attended a meeting, read an article or watched a commercial about breast cancer where they show the image of a large cancerous tumor in order to get peoples attention. They focus on stories of strength, survival, and they give us clear, succinct ways that we can help in the CURE of cancer.

What I have found that has made the most motivated, involved and long term advocates is when they are introduced to an opportunity to be a part of writing a story of hope. If we don’t communicate real stories of hope, answered prayer and forward movement in this issue, people tend to drown in the statistics and the dramatization and that may induce a spasm of passion, but it does not evoke a long obedience in the same direction.

Let’s not focus so much about showing people the evil tumor of human trafficking, but the possibility of a cure, and see where that takes the anti trafficking movement in the years to come.

By: Sara Pomeroy | RJI Founder & Director