LSI Opinion - Trafficking in the media
Although La Strada International generally welcomes increased attention to the issue of trafficking in the public arena, unbalanced media coverage on trafficking can also create false perceptions and damage the interests of trafficked persons rather than servicing them. Two different problems in this regard are:
- the portrayal of women and violence in the media, in particular with regard to agency and the victimisation of women, and
- the portrayal of the scope and nature of trafficking, in particular with regard to estimates of the number of trafficked persons and its occurrence in the sex industry or other economic sectors.
With regard to the portrayal of trafficked women in the media, La Strada has noted the tendency of portraying women as helpless victims who have been forced to migrate and work in the sex industry. These depictions - including public awareness-raising campaigns by governments or NGOs - often include imagery of women’s bodies in chains, battered, scantily dressed or even processed like goods or packaged like animals. Although La Strada understands that the public and policy-makers needs to be informed about the extent of exploitation through trafficking, La Strada also firmly believes that this kind of imagery enhances the objectification of women by depicting them as commodities and disempowers them by portraying them as helpless victims without any agency. Anti-trafficking work should be based on the principle of empowerment, with the intention of increasing peoples’ and/or communities’ capacities to exert influence over their own lives. This includes women who have been trafficked into the sex industry.
With regard to the public portrayal of the scope and nature of trafficking, La Strada has noted tendencies in the media as well as in government actions to not base claims made on sound empirical research or facts derived from direct social assistance work by anti-trafficking NGOs and other service providers. There are a lot of statistics on the number of trafficked persons in the world, which are mostly based on estimations only and therefore not reliable. Victims are often not identified as trafficked persons at all and only seen as unwanted (irregular) migrants. Furthermore, because of the clandestine nature of the phenomenon, it is impossible to get a complete picture of the numbers of people involved and their circumstances.
It is also impossible to tell if human trafficking (whether in a given country or in the whole world) is increasing or decreasing. Even if more victims are identified, more calls received at hotlines or more traffickers sentenced, this can also mean that there is more awareness or that the issue is high on a government’s agenda and the institutions work better together to prevent and counteract the phenomenon.