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Visually affected. Campaigning the post-Oscar sexy.

At a human trafficking event at the National University of Singapore in September 2012 journalist Benjamin Skinner spoke about the conditions of quarry workers in India to “put a human face on statistics”. He proceeded to tell the audience, “the vast majority [of slaves] are born into debt bondage” and predicted, “in the US, every half hour one person becomes a slave” (I can find no evidence for either statistic). As I sift through post-Award season media reverie commending the success of 12 Years a Slave and the Director’s subsequent recruitment as Patron of Anti-Slavery International and Ambassador of Polaris Project, I am reminded of a similarly unquestioned use of conflating narratives.

The intent of this post is not to vilify campaigners, or anyone involved in the film. It is intended to highlight another missed opportunity to engage in critical discourse with the public about the complications of human trafficking. There are clear lessons to be learned through international and intercultural dialogue, but that dialogue should be inclusive of conversations about weaknesses and differences, not only success. It should also be contingent on cultural and geographic context, mindful of impacts, especially in countries with emerging policy change. In discussions facilitated by this movie, we hope to see the production of evaluations completed by organizations that highlight the outcomes of such campaigns on public understandings of human trafficking. (more…)

The blame game

Winter’s end in the UK has brought along several interesting anti-trafficking initiatives.  Sexual violence converged with interpretations about victim responsibility in the media; Crimestoppers launched a new video seeking to raise awareness of forced labour; and a campaign focused on the exploitation of London’s hotel workers gained an audience at Westminster.

Last year, West Mercia police had to apologise for their anti-rape campaign which linked alcohol and rape, following pubic complaints; the campaign seemed to blame the victim for, well, being a victim.  In December 2012, The Independent carried an article which rounded-up the various “blame the victim” slurs and campaigns, from organisations and individuals alike.  This included George Galloway’s (MP) demotion of the rape allegations against Julian Assange as “bad sexual etiquette”.  January saw social media alive with the consternation at yet more instances of victim blaming relating to sexual violence.  A Gloucestershire MP stated:

If you are a young woman on her own trying to walk back home … early in the morning in a tight, short skirt and high shoes and there’s a predator and if you are blind drunk and wearing those clothes how able are you to get away?   … life doesn’t give you full protection from a predator all the time.

It seems though that no-one told the BBC that victim blaming was out.  Their odd story, supposedly to coincide with Valentine’s Day, “How safe do women feel on a night out?” interviewed five women about their personal safety concerns when on a night out with friends, which focused depressingly on the correlation between their choice of clothing and safety from sexual violence.  Across the pond, advice faired no better, as reflected in the worrying advice from the University of Colorado, which encouraged women to tell their attackers that they had a disease or were menstruating, as a method of repelling an attack. (more…)

We don’t need another hero: everyday activism against human trafficking

Recently, I told a stranger at an airport what I did for a living. We were in the midst of our second flight delay and the chit-chatty conversation quickly parlayed into his long-desired, yet unfulfilled, passion to work on issues of human trafficking. He told me he had (quite sincerely) been meaning to volunteer for ages; meeting me opened the flood gates: what could he do? Who needed his help? Surely, there must be an organization just waiting for Someone Like Him to come along and offer his services. This conversation, in concert with our post on campaigns, warranted heavy meditation on alternative avenues for productive activism against human trafficking. (more…)

‘Dear God’: Can prayer stop trafficking?

I recently attended an edited excerpt of the film Nefarious: Merchant of Souls by Exodus Cry, an event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, with an introduction by Exodus Cry’s Director of Awareness and Prevention.  While I personally objected to the quality of the ‘documentary’ with its CSI style re-enactments of  women being ‘traded’ by sex traffickers and interviews with former British and American prostitutes  replete with moral condemnation for those who choose to go into sex work, it was the accompanying promotional literature which stood out.  It stated:

Prayer is our central value.  We believe it is the most powerful and effective weapon to combat slavery.  Our global prayer initiatives include City in Focus, Exodus Cry Prayer Watch – a coalition of prayer meetings – Adopt a Nation, and the Red Light Prayer initiative. (more…)

Like a bull in a china shop: haphazard do-goodery campaigns against trafficking

Well-constructed public awareness campaigns on human trafficking can enlighten and challenge public perceptions. The positive impacts of such campaigns may include: a more informed society – preferably one that pressures companies to examine their supply chains – shaping attitudes about ‘victims’, challenging prejudices, and mobilizing government leadership to take the issue seriously. But for these best case scenarios to come to fruition, they must be built on a strategic and considered approach.

In its response to the newly-published US Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report, the Singapore Government highlighted that in Singapore: ‘…the concept of “human trafficking” is not widely understood, or misunderstood…’. The TiP report recommended that the Government: ‘continue public awareness campaigns to inform citizens and residents of the penalties for involvement in trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor.’ But, if human trafficking is not widely understood here and, as noted in previous posts, limited research is being carried out on this issue, how do we know what to raise public awareness about (and shouldn’t awareness-raising extend beyond educating the public about penalties)? (more…)