How the media reports on human trafficking is critical
Nancy Cabelus, DNP, MSN, RN, is an international forensic nurse consultant currently working with Physicians for Human Rights on a program addressing sexual violence in conflict zones in central and east Africa. She is a CHMP Senior Fellow.
Yesterday, I attended a human trafficking conference in Pinellas County, Florida sponsored by the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and St. Petersburg College. As a retired police officer and a proactive, forensic nurse with expertise in human trafficking and sexual violence, I recognize the importance of community involvement in the detection and prevention of human trafficking. Coincidentally, an objective of the conference was to discuss the need for community involvement in the face of human trafficking. One limitation that was pointed out by conference presenters is the lack of media presence on the county’s human trafficking task force. The media has a key role in reporting stories on human trafficking incidents and creating public awareness—giant steps in the primary prevention of human trafficking. During the presentation, a news media clip was viewed of a local reporter covering a story of human trafficking in Florida. In reality, the reported incident was not human trafficking at all. Rather, it was a case of smuggling.
There is a significant difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. In smuggling, the offense is against a country’s borders. In most cases, the smuggled person agrees to be concealed and transported across borders. In trafficking, the offense is against a human being by force, fraud or coercion. My point here is that if media reporters are missing from conferences and trainings, reports will continue to be incorrect. The media could be an important player in crime prevention and in the promotion of public safety. News broadcasts have been helpful in the apprehension of criminal suspects as well as helping to locate missing persons. Certainly, the media could be instrumental in creating a culture of public intolerance for human trafficking within any given community.
The prevalence of human trafficking is astounding and it’s happening in nearly every community. Nearly 20,000 people are trafficking into the US each year and an estimated 27 million are held in slavery around the world. The United States is a destination country for human trafficking but domestic trafficking is also common in the U.S. Human trafficking for the purposes of cheap labor, commercial sexual exploitation, or both, is a serious human rights violation. Most trafficking survivors report being subjected to psychological trauma, physical injuries resulting from abuse or torture, and sexual violence.
It really does take a community to battle human trafficking. When building community teams and task forces, the media must be invited to the table.