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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.

Convenors

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.

Respondents

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


Replies

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 DoSomething.org). 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...

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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.

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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. 

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Interview: detention as the new migration management?

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

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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.

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