The news media is vitally important to exposing the realities of human trafficking – be it sex trafficking, forced labour, or child soldiering. The general public needs to be made more aware of this $32 billion/year crime and its ramifications. People cannot be led to humanitarian action and reform if they are ignorant of the oppressive problem faced by as many as 30 million people worldwide.
However, it is equally important that survivors be respected in the process of reporting. To exploit a survivor of trafficking for the sake of selling a big news story is ultimately counterproductive. Reporters must find the balance between sharing the grotesque facts of this global crime and upholding the dignity and worth of the victims and survivors who they photograph, film, and about whom they write.
Jonathan Paige writes:
Ultimately, newspapers are commercial organisations and if editors don’t think a story will sell, they won’t run it. Many of the sex trafficking articles indexed were about the Rochdale trafficking ring, in which 47 young girls were forced into sexual slavery. The details of the case were so troubling and the number of victims so large that it generated a huge amount of interest.
“Obviously, it’s important to understand that media reporting is based on what is ‘newsworthy’,” says Nick Grono, the CEO of Walk Free. “The tragedy of modern slavery is certainly newsworthy and worth reporting on, but unfortunately, because it is such a hidden crime, it often takes an immense amount of resources to support investigative journalists. The other issue is that access to survivors is sometimes difficult, and it is their voices that play a huge part in pushing a story into the mainstream.”
The JRF report also raises the issue of the media’s linking of forced labour to a broader anti-immigration agenda.
“Fuelling anger towards immigration seems to sell more than reporting that the UK might not be so innocent in terms of trafficking happening on our doorstep,” says Bex Griffiths, director of Baca, which works with forced migrants in Leicestershire.
“People who are working within immigration do not want to use the media to raise awareness as it is too risky that victims could be painted as perpetrators, doing damage to the overall public perception of victims,” she adds.
Yet Tim Waldron, chief executive of anti-trafficking NGO Love146, insists that anti-slavery groups shouldn’t be scared off engaging with the media. “[slavery] will remain hidden if the media don’t report it; if it remains hidden, it will continue,” says Waldron. “If it continues, then we will be complicit in allowing gross human rights abuses to be perpetrated in our midst.”
But, he adds, increased media access comes with some caveats: “One aspect of the report I struggled with was the call for NGOs to make more victims available for interview. The report acknowledges that these are ‘incredibly vulnerable people and steps would need to be taken to protect them’; however, the media’s constant request for ‘the voice of the victim’ is fraught with difficulty.”
Griffiths agrees: “I would not look for young people to tell their story unless they make the choice to do so themselves, knowing the consequences of their actions. We feel strongly that telling a story that is not ours to tell, however keen we are to tell about the realities of trafficking, is an exploitative act in itself” (source linked above).