Friday, March 9, 2012

When do survivor stories become exploitative?

As a journalist, I’ve grappled with the ethics of reporting when working with vulnerable populations. Often there is a perpetual conflict between wanting to raise awareness on undeniable injustices and participating in the creation of media sensations that can border on re-exploitative.This dilemma has continued to rear its head at IOFA as we celebrate accomplishments and promote our work as a social justice organization dedicated to helping with anti-trafficking efforts nationwide.

Human trafficking cases have been prevalent in the media this past year. Most recently, America’s Most Wanted did a two hour special on a trafficker who was subsequently caught a week later. Raising awareness on these issues is vital to mobilization and no doubt such coverage has its positive effects.

For victims, however, sharing stories can be re-traumatizing. Much like when put on the stand to testify, public scrutiny on extremely intimate details of a traumatic experience can reopen old wounds. So where should we draw the line?

Safety is at the fore of our work at IOFA. Publishing details of victim experiences can undermine that safety, so I was intrigued when I saw an online guide for journalists that spoke to the issue. At IOFA we’d argue that proper trauma-informed training for police, journalists, and the like is critical in order to prevent harming victim recovery.

So, we’d like to pose the question back to you: survivor stories can sometimes invoke the most empathy, but are they doing more harm than good? What do you think?

Summar Ghias, Program Development Intern

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