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Statement on the occasion of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons

28 July 2017

July 30 is World Day against Trafficking in Persons, a day noted by the UN as necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”

The current situation of victims of human trafficking, as reported by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is that they come from a multitude of countries (137 nationalities were detected in Europe alone between 2012 – 2014), they transit along as many as 500 different trafficking flows, and that women and children make up a disproportionate majority of identified victims (as high as 70%). This is the macro perspective. The micro situation is that every single case of human trafficking detected is an individual that has experienced trauma, abuse and exploitation.

This reality is rarely communicated to the general public. The quality of media coverage on the issue of human trafficking varies, as does the level of knowledge on the phenomenon among journalists and general public alike. At a recent ICMPD  Workshop on Mass Media, Public Awareness and Trafficking in Human Beings, leading experts on human trafficking and journalism highlighted that the debate on trafficking in the media is too often riven with superficial sensationalism, overly simplified narratives and confusion between human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. As a result, much media reporting on the topic fails to capture the complexity of human trafficking or account for why certain groups are vulnerable to being trafficked.

Most concerning, there are many reported cases of inaccurate or sensationalist media reporting on trafficking leading to a miscarriage of justice during a prosecution, or causing secondary trauma and stigmatisation among victims through public exposure of their identities.

The long term implications of distorted reporting on trafficking has a negative impact on the general public’s awareness and understanding of what trafficking is, the wellbeing of victims, and ultimately on the design of sensible, evidence based policy responses to addressing trafficking.

Due to its ability to reach out to a high number of individuals, the media is an important tool in shaping public’s awareness about trafficking. It is a tool of prevention - avoiding more people becoming victims of trafficking in human beings. The media is important in mobilizing public support and prompting social, policy and legal change in a society.

There is special and persistent need to take into account how victims are exposed in media reporting of trafficking, how trafficking is reported next to migrant smuggling, and to support the production of well-researched, investigative reporting on human trafficking.  This should result in better media coverage of trafficking, a better understanding in society and among policy makers of what trafficking really is, and ultimately better prevention of the crime occurring in the first place.  

Building partnerships with media organisations and working to educate journalists and editors is key to ultimately re-balancing the narrative on trafficking. This work is already underway, with the Migration Media Awards, launched this year by ICMPD’s Euromed Migration team, recognising and rewarding 35 journalistic pieces for their excellence in reporting on all-aspects of migration in the Mediterranean region.

On 2017’s World Day against Trafficking, we must reflect on the dangerous implications of where current reporting on human trafficking will lead us, and take action to encourage a balanced, nuanced narrative on what human trafficking is, and how it can be eradicated.


See also: 2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons