only search

BTS logo

Policy debate

January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, one of the many ways that the cause of fighting human trafficking will be promoted throughout the year. Is that a good thing? We asked 10 people who work with human trafficking awareness a simple question: 'Campaigns to raise public awareness of human trafficking may have flaws, but their overall impact is positive. YES OR NO?' This is what they answered.


Elena Shih & Joel Quirk

Elena Shih is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University.

Joel Quirk is Associate Professor in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa).

Introduction: do the hidden costs outweigh the practical benefits of human trafficking awareness campaigns?

With support from Brown University's Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice and Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center.


Anne Elizabeth Moore (NO)
Author of Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking

Katherine Chon (YES)
Director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons, US Dept. of Health and Human Services

Joanna Ewart-James (YES)
Advocacy Director at Walk Free

David Feingold (NO)
Director of the Ophidian Research Institute

Matthew Friedman (YES)
CEO for The Mekong Club

Zoe Trodd (NO)
University of Nottingham

Cris Sardina (NO)
Director of Desiree Alliance

Marilyn Murray (YES)
Creative Director at Love146

Sameera Hafiz (NO)
Advocacy Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Ima Matul (YES)
Survivor of Human Trafficking


Borislav Gerasimov (NO)
Advocacy Officer at Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Jamison Liang (YES)
Digital Programme Officer at IOM X

Kelli Lynn Johnson (NO)
Associate Professor, Miami University Hamilton

Dina Haynes (NO)
Professor, New England Law|Boston

Campaigners, activists and government officials spend much of their time and energy crafting messages that are designed to win specific audiences over to their cause. The main goal behind these messages is to ‘raise awareness’ of specific problems or issues, and to offer target audiences with potential solutions or remedies.

Human trafficking awareness campaigns intend to inspire both individuals and institutions to ‘do something’ (there is even a campaign called While taking action against injustice is undoubtedly a laudable impulse, the ‘something’ in question is by no means as straightforward as it might first appear. Thus while awareness campaigns may well reach large audiences, are they teaching their audiences the right things? Read on...

New report sheds light on the human trafficking of domestic workers in the United States

Data from the Beyond Survival campaign reveals that domestic workers are vulnerable to the most extreme forms of exploitation. Domestic workers around the country are organizing.

Efforts to clean up global supply chains so far come up short

The UK’s Modern Slavery Act fell short of holding companies accountable for forced labour in their supply chains. Can the loopholes be fixed? 

Leaving home to become a domestic worker

For women migrants from Bangladesh, education and technical skills can be real game changers.

How ‘evidence-based’ anti-trafficking campaigns make facts and mismeasure freedom

Sensational, sexualised imagery is often held up as the greatest sin of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, but bad data masquerading as authoritative fact is far more insidious.

The sadism of anti-trafficking and the erasure of racial slavery

This debate has failed to engage with the enduring structure of racial slavery. As representations of African migrants in the Mediterranean illustrate, anti-trafficking campaigns feed into the problem they aim to dismantle. 

The wastefulness of human trafficking awareness campaigns

There is no evidence that public awareness campaigns help victims of human trafficking. Instead of continuing to waste funds on public service announcements we need to prioritise direct assistance.

Cutting corners to make a compelling story: trafficking awareness campaigns as fake news and alternative facts

Anti-trafficking awareness campaigns share many features with fake news and alternative facts. While the latter are derided, campaigns continue to be widely celebrated despite their serious flaws.

Beyond parachutes and self-appointed saviours: grounding campaigns against human trafficking in lived experiences

Public awareness campaigns targeting human trafficking can be messy and imperfect, but we also see positive examples grounded in respect and lived experiences rather than in rescue attempts by self-appointed saviours.

More than catch phrases and click bait: mutual learning as a tactic for combating the exploitation of migrants

Anti-trafficking campaigns are more concerned with generating clicks than with taking effective action against exploitation. Awareness campaigns must be grounded in the lived experiences and perspectives of their target audience. 

Interview: preparing for climate and disaster migration

As sea levels rise, lands dry out, and disasters linked to natural hazards become more common, more and more people are going to be forced to move. Are we prepared?

Interview: why do we think development will stop migration?

States are increasingly incorporating development aid into their strategies for controlling migration. But is this the right way to look at the issue, and does it have any hope of ‘success’?

The quiet resistance of domestic workers in Lebanon

The migrant women working in Lebanese homes have little in the way of protection or rights, but they find ways to carve out normalcy for themselves nevertheless.

Interview: how can better policy empower women on the move?

Women experience migration different than men do, and with the right policies that can be a source of empowerment more than a source of risk.

Gaps in global advocacy for the protection of migrants’ rights

Migrants have no dedicated advocate within the fractured landscape of the UN system. Could that be changed?

Safe passage: an integral component of the responsibility to protect

The world’s nations accepted the ‘responsibility to protect’ many years ago, but now they must live up to that commitment by ensuring safe passage and protecting displaced persons.

Interview: the dangerous invisibility of women migrants

Women migrate all over the world to work or to escape violence, yet in comparison to male migrants they are barely visible in policy and media discussions. This makes them vulnerable.

Time for a clear roadmap for states to end child immigration detention

The UN Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants need to include an accountable way to end immigration detention for children.

What we want for children in the global compacts on refugees and migrants

We expect the impact of the initiative to carry beyond the global compacts and to influence the way all children on the move are protected and supported.

Interview: detention as the new migration management?

Immigration detention is becoming a preferred method for states to process and deter migrants, but there are many other options available out there.

Interview: is rights-based ‘good migration governance’ possible?

The director of the migration policy and research department at the International Organisation for Migration goes in-depth on global migration policies, the forthcoming global compacts, and the policy challenges going forward.

Global compacts, detention centres, and safe passage: can the world change course on migration?

The tragic spectacle of the past five years has pushed migration to the top of the global policy agenda, but it will take a lot of work to transform that opportunity into substantive change.

Interview: making the global compacts on migrants and refugees worthwhile

Achieving meaningful global compacts on migration and refugees by end-2018 won’t be easy. Learn the challenges ahead from someone involved in the process.

The online world of surrogacy

What do we know about the women using their own bodies to help intended parents realise their dreams?

“You won’t pacify us”

Domestic workers flooded the office of Donald Trump’s nomination for the Office of Management and Budget with baby pacifiers this week.

How the UK Modern Slavery Act can find its bite

The UK Modern Slavery Act can transform business action to eradicate slavery, but only if investors, civil society, consumers and companies use their leverage to ensure it.

Call for responses to our policy debate on the overall effect of human trafficking awareness campaigns

On 11 January Beyond Slavery and Trafficking launched an online policy debate exploring the practical effects of human trafficking awareness campaigns. This debate is not yet complete, and now waits on your responses.

Targeting vulnerable communities: public awareness of human trafficking must align with policies directly benefiting all victims and survivors

Public awareness campaigns have lots to say about sex trafficking, but often fail to reach communities directly impacted by trafficking or to complement programmes that help survivors.

Beyond survival: lessons from domestic worker organising campaigns against human trafficking and labour exploitation

Anti-trafficking campaigns can help to tip the scales towards justice, but they will only succeed if they are grounded in the lived experiences of survivors and oriented towards systemic solutions.

Getting through the front door: public awareness campaigns as an essential first step in the fight against human trafficking

Campaigns to raise public awareness have limitations, but they are also constantly being refined and improved. They must be regarded as a key first step on the road to more mature forms of engagement.

Campaign culture matters: Bringing together awareness and evidence

It can be hard to say what works, but we need an enduring commitment to empowerment and self-liberation rather than unhelpful images of pleading hands and whipped backs. 

Linking information and action in the fight against human trafficking

Public awareness campaigns targeting human trafficking must link comprehensive information with a well-researched and relatable programme of action. 

Marketing mass hysteria: anti-trafficking awareness campaigns go rogue

Efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking contribute to a save and rescue rhetoric that helps little, yet renders the lives of sex workers and minors in the sex trade unsafe.

Raising awareness: of what? for what? by whom? for whom?

While broad-scale awareness raising tactics have succeeded in generating public interest in human trafficking, they also come with negative consequences.

Without knowledge there can be no progress in the fight against modern slavery

We will never be able to combat modern forms of slavery if people aren’t aware that modern slavery exists.

Look beneath the surface: a public health approach to raising awareness and ending human trafficking

To be truly effective, public awareness campaigns must be combined with calls to action, such as the successful Rescue and Restore Campaign, which offers crucial insights in the fight to end human trafficking.

Syndicate content