Raising Awareness of Human Trafficking Responsibly

January 11, 2023

January marks an important month here at BEST; Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This month, many people will be sharing ideas, discussing, and communicating what human trafficking is to others. Raising awareness about human trafficking is crucial, but we all must be cognizant of how our communication can play a role in delivering information.

When we share stories of survivors of human trafficking to raise awareness, it can be powerful. Here at BEST, it is our responsibility to accurately reflect and represent the reality of human trafficking crimes, and those who bravely share their stories. Here are some ways we strive to ethically raise awareness of human trafficking, share stories, and broaden our understanding of what human trafficking truly is.  

Using Images, Video, and Graphics

Now more than ever, sharing images and video are the primary ways we communicate with others online. When pairing images with articles, media stories, or training presentations it’s important to have some rules.  

  1. BEST does not use images of chains, ropes, duct tape, or handcuffs. These images are dehumanizing and they do not accurately portray how human trafficking works.  
  1. BEST does not share images of people with visible injuries, oversexualized individuals, or people cowering in fear in the corner. It can be triggering and harmful for people who have experienced trafficking, and portrays them as weak or criminals, when the opposite is true.  
  1. BEST always considers who is empowered and who is disempowered by sharing the image we are thinking of using. And we always aim to share empowering images of survivors.

As more businesses and organizations move to video and image-based communication, we encourage them to take time to focus on the message of the communication and use an image that reflects their message, rather than using images that are based off of old, inaccurate, and sensationalized ideas of trafficking.  

Sensationalizing Stories

Stories have the ability to heighten public awareness in identifying potential human trafficking survivors and not criminalizing them. Responsible storytelling can help engage the public and influence policy development, and it can also encourage our society to hold exploiters accountable. But storytelling needs to be done ethically.

People tend to play up or play down aspects of a story to get a reaction from listeners or readers. However, over sensationalizing the reality of human trafficking can lead to people misunderstanding it. While human trafficking crimes can be shocking, our goal is always to convey it as accurately as possible.  

This is critical, as it can also be damaging to people in trafficking situations because they may not understand or recognize they are the victim of a crime. If you are working with a person who has experienced trafficking, do not misconstrue or misquote how they want to tell their story. It is important to gain deep consent before sharing survivor stories.

Asking for Consent and Providing Compensation

Sharing a survivor’s story requires asking for consent. These stories are deeply personal and traumatic. It’s important to come from a place of understanding rather than judgement, and be very clear about who, when, where, and why you are sharing their story.  

It’s also important to adequately compensate people for their time. Survivors of trafficking are experts and deserve payment for the time spent helping your business or organization with a training or awareness campaign.  

Language is Powerful

When we are presenting, writing, or sharing information about human trafficking prevention, language can either confirm biased thoughts or help deepen a person’s understanding. Using concise and clear terms that do not create false narratives or dehumanize survivors is how we all learn together. Here are some tips for creating presentations or sharing stories:  

  • If you are working with someone who has experienced trafficking, ask them their pronouns. Also ask how they would like to be identified, for example, as a survivor, a person who experienced trafficking, a lived experience expert, or just by their name.
  • If you are communicating about people exiting a trafficking situation with support from law enforcement or a social services agency, do not use the terms saved or rescued. Instead use words like assisted, transitioned, or recovered.  
  • If you are communicating about people in the commercial sex industry—do not use the word prostitute. Instead use person experiencing prostitution or commercial sexual exploitation.

Stay Grounded in Respect

As we conduct awareness raising efforts for Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we can keep in mind that although we are discussing a serious problem, we are doing so to help encourage more people to report trafficking incidents, reach out for assistance, and to create better solutions. It’s important to keep in mind that survivors are telling their story to help other people, not to seek attention. If we remember to use respectful imagery and language in our messaging, it can raise awareness in a way that maintains dignity for survivors.