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In plain sight: the news media’s role in exposing human trafficking

June 28, 2010

by Gretchen Kail

June 16 Discussion on Human Trafficking and the Media, at ECOSOC Chamber

On Wednesday June 16th, 2010 a panel of journalists, filmmakers and others gathered in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Headquarters in NYC for a discussion entitled In plain sight: the news media’s role in exposing human trafficking. Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and Florence Graves, Founding Director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, gave the welcoming remarks, introductions and directed thank yous to the Schuster family for their ongoing support of investigative journalism.

Ambassador Luis Cdebaca, appointed by President Obama to direct the Sate Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, gave the Keynote Address. Ambassador Cdebaca emphasized the “power of the word” in the fight against and the abolition of human trafficking. For 400 years slavery has been in existence, Ambassador Cdebaca reminded the audience, while human trafficking has been recognized as a global human rights issue for the past 150 years. On Monday June 14th the 10th annual Trafficking In Persons Report was published and this is the first year, thanks to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the United States has included itself in the report. But it is thanks to the writers and journalists, starting with Harriet Beecher Stowe, said Ambassador Cdebaca, who by giving a voice to the victims, have brought the issue of human trafficking to the forefront of society’s consciousness. It was Ms. Stowe’s illustration of slave life that ignited the abolitionist movement in the 1800’s and, according to Ambassador Cdebaca, it is through the media’s reporting, documenting and raising society’s awareness that human trafficking will cease to exist in the modern era.

The panel Moderator, Lynn Sherr, contributing editor at More Magazine and a blogger at The Daily Beast, started the discussion off by asking each panel member to talk about their experiences in and challenges of reporting on human trafficking. According to the panelists the challenges they faced ranged from the lack of substantial data, to the victims’ fear of speaking out, to the difficult and complex issues on presenting human trafficking to the public without further victimizing those affected.

Mike McGraw, special project reporter for the Kansas City Star, talked about the negative role the U.S. immigration system has played in abolishing human trafficking. Mr. McGraw pointed out that the misuse of the H2B visa has essentially legalized human trafficking within the United States and that the issues surrounding the deportation of the victims has been lost amongst the “noise” of the immigration debate.

Under-Secretary–General Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, suggested that the term media should be expanded beyond the press. The media’s “job” is to “mobilize society at large” and in doing so, according Mr. Costa, the conversation should include the role that film and the visual arts can play in exposing human trafficking and bringing the conversation to the forefront of society’s consciousness. To that end Mr. Costa spoke of Hollywood’s role and the power of the emotional effect Hollywood films can have on their audience. Mr. Costa also suggested the need to mobilize visual artists. Through artistic representation of human trafficking, media can truly raise the consciousness of society, said Mr. Costa.

Guy Jacobson, a filmmaker and global activist, pointed out that by depicting human trafficking through an honest representation of the victim’s experience media can not help but to raise society’s awareness of this crime. Once exposed to the atrocities committed against 2.5 million child victims, suggested Mr. Jacobson, the fact that human trafficking is a crime against humanity and needs to be eradicated will become self evident to society. Mr. Jacobson suggested that the story of human trafficking in itself is enough.

The journalist’s job according to E. Benjamin Skinnner, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute, is to seek the truth and tell it. The difficulty of reporting on human trafficking is, at the same time, to “do no harm” by further victimizing the victims. Noy Thrupkaew, a fellow at the Open Society Institute, expounded on the challenges involved when representing those affected by human trafficking. During her research in South East Asia, she became interested in the portrait of the victims that are imbued with what she terms as  “redemptive Victorian sexuality.” The representations as reported and documented by the media, Ms. Thrupkaew suggested, is dependant upon treating the victim as a victim, not as a three dimensional human being. She implored the media in their reporting and their representations, to allow the victims to move beyond victimhood.

Mr. Costa, in the panel’s closing remarks, reminded the audience of the economic aspects of human trafficking. He pointed out that like other businesses, trafficking is based not just on the supply but also the demand. In order to end human trafficking the demand needs to be eradicated. One of media’s roles, according to Mr. Costa, is to “advertise” human trafficking, in a similar fashion to the campaign waged against blood diamonds, in which the emphasis is placed upon the role personal responsibility can and needs to play in eradicating human trafficking. As a society, Mr. Costa said, we need to look not only at the larger context of human trafficking but also at the choices we make when choosing the clothes we wear, the products we purchase, the food we eat. 

On Wednesday June 16th, 2010 a panel of journalists, filmmakers and others gathered in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Headquarters in NYC for a discussion entitled In plain sight: the news media’s role in exposing human trafficking. Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and Florence Graves, Founding Director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, gave the welcoming remarks, introductions and directed thank yous to the Schuster family for their ongoing support of investigative journalism.

 

Ambassador Luis Cdebaca, appointed by President Obama to direct the Sate Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, gave the Keynote Address. Ambassador Cdebaca emphasized the “power of the word” in the fight against and the abolition of human trafficking. For 400 years slavery has been in existence, Ambassador Cdebaca reminded the audience, while human trafficking has been recognized as a global human rights issue for the past 150 years. On Monday June 14th the 10th annual Trafficking In Persons Report was published and this is the first year, thanks to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the United States has included itself in the report. But it is thanks to the writers and journalists, starting with Harriet Beecher Stowe, said Ambassador Cdebaca, who by giving a voice to the victims, have brought the issue of human trafficking to the forefront of society’s consciousness. It was Ms. Stowe’s illustration of slave life that ignited the abolitionist movement in the 1800’s and, according to Ambassador Cdebaca, it is through the media’s reporting, documenting and raising society’s awareness that human trafficking will cease to exist in the modern era.

 

The panel Moderator, Lynn Sherr, contributing editor at More Magazine and a blogger at The Daily Beast, started the discussion off by asking each panel member to talk about their experiences in and challenges of reporting on human trafficking. According to the panelists the challenges they faced ranged from the lack of substantial data, to the victims’ fear of speaking out, to the difficult and complex issues on presenting human trafficking to the public without further victimizing those affected.

 

Mike McGraw, special project reporter for the Kansas City Star, talked about the negative role the U.S. immigration system has played in abolishing human trafficking. Mr. McGraw pointed out that the misuse of the H2B visa has essentially legalized human trafficking within the United States and that the issues surrounding the deportation of the victims has been lost amongst the “noise” of the immigration debate.

 

Under-Secretary–General Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, suggested that the term media should be expanded beyond the press. The media’s “job” is to “mobilize society at large” and in doing so, according Mr. Costa, the conversation should include the role that film and the visual arts can play in exposing human trafficking and bringing the conversation to the forefront of society’s consciousness. To that end Mr. Costa spoke of Hollywood’s role and the power of the emotional effect Hollywood films can have on their audience. Mr. Costa also suggested the need to mobilize visual artists. Through artistic representation of human trafficking, media can truly raise the consciousness of society, said Mr. Costa.

 

Guy Jacobson, a filmmaker and global activist, pointed out that by depicting human trafficking through an honest representation of the victim’s experience media can not help but to raise society’s awareness of this crime. Once exposed to the atrocities committed against 2.5 million child victims, suggested Mr. Jacobson, the fact that human trafficking is a crime against humanity and needs to be eradicated will become self evident to society. Mr. Jacobson suggested that the story of human trafficking in itself is enough.

 

The journalist’s job according to E. Benjamin Skinnner, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute, is to seek the truth and tell it. The difficulty of reporting on human trafficking is, at the same time, to “do no harm” by further victimizing the victims. Noy Thrupkaew, a fellow at the Open Society Institute, expounded on the challenges involved when representing those affected by human trafficking. During her research in South East Asia, she became interested in the portrait of the victims that are imbued with what she terms as  “redemptive Victorian sexuality.” The representations as reported and documented by the media, Ms. Thrupkaew suggested, is dependant upon treating the victim as a victim, not as a three dimensional human being. She implored the media in their reporting and their representations, to allow the victims to move beyond victimhood.

 

Mr. Costa, in the panel’s closing remarks, reminded the audience of the economic aspects of human trafficking. He pointed out that like other businesses, trafficking is based not just on the supply but also the demand. In order to end human trafficking the demand needs to be eradicated. One of media’s roles, according to Mr. Costa, is to “advertise” human trafficking, in a similar fashion to the campaign waged against blood diamonds, in which the emphasis is placed upon the role personal responsibility can and needs to play in eradicating human trafficking. As a society, Mr. Costa said, we need to look not only at the larger context of human trafficking but also at the choices we make when choosing the clothes we wear, the products we purchase, the food we eat.

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