By Virginia Howard
FCAHT Volunteer Coordinator
Within the anti-trafficking movement, visual aids and images can function as powerful tools in that they attract public attention, elicit emotion, and hopefully, increase awareness regarding the global and pervasive nature of modern day slavery. However, in order to increase awareness effectively, it is imperative that said images accurately reflect the problem of human trafficking and maintain sensitivity with regard to the experiences of survivors. Images that employ sexism, racism, and exploitation perpetuate false assumptions about human trafficking. In turn, these assumptions contribute to the development of a public misunderstanding, which is destructive in the process of increasing awareness regarding modern day slavery.
To begin, the example image above is intended to imply that human trafficking denies personal agency to women and effectively, denigrates their status to something more similar to animal, than person. However, only women are shown in this image, which is an untrue explication of the problem of human trafficking. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, federal investigations confirmed 63 instances of labor trafficking in 2011. Of those 63 cases, 68% of survivors were female and 32% were male. An image like the example thus perpetuates the myth that only women are affected by human trafficking, effectively ignoring the male victims, and subsequently, presents a false image of this issue to the public.
Further, in continuance with an examination of the example image, all of the women in the image are white. Statistics regarding the most recent information on federal investigations indicate that the majority of sex trafficking survivors recovered were of African-American descent, while the majority of labor trafficking survivors recovered were of Hispanic origin. This information is in complete contradiction with the ideas this example image suggests to the public. Perpetuating inaccurate information regarding the race/ethnic background of survivors not only presents a false picture of modern day slavery, and thus, misleads the public, it is also deeply insensitive with regard to survivors.
While the use of imagery in the anti-trafficking movement is a useful tactic to inspire the public and increase awareness, a lack of caution and sensitivity in the selection of these images can be highly problematic. It is crucial to the success of the anti-trafficking movement that true data and ideas are communicated to the public, not only for the validity of the movement, but to be respectful and honor the survivors of human trafficking.
Michael Walford Monthly. “Danish Anti-Trafficking Group,” accessed December 12, 2011. http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/michaelwalford/monthly/0407/?num=10&start=10.
Duren Banks and Tracey Kyckelhahn. Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010, 1. (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justic Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 2011), 1, accessed December 11, 2011, http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cshti0810.pdf.