Sunday, December 16, 2007

Well Intentioned, but Potentially Harmful...

This article has been brought to my attention several times over the last few days and I think it would be good to break it down a bit.

It's entitled, "Escaping El Salvador's sex traffickers" and it's by Linda Pressly who writes for the Crossing Continents program for the BBC. As a matter of principle, I'm not going to copy the information directly from the article, because I believe this is an example of reporting that was intended to bring to light the plight of one young woman from Central America who was trafficked to El Salvador under the guise of a lawful job as a waitress, but was instead thrown into a brothel and suffered from physical and sexual abuse. She finally made it back home and is preparing to tesify against the traffickers who were arrested in the bust by San Salvador police.

Sergeant Jose Ayala of the Police Trafficking Unit was involved in helping rescue this young woman as well as others. He responded to the alarm of the victim's family member who had been contacted by the victim from San Salvador.

The article itself is a stark and realistic description of what a victim of trafficking suffers from and how the process happens. I thought the descriptions of the guilt the victim felt, the extreme depression and loneliness as well as the danger the victim still faces all contribute to a better overall picture of the reality of trafficking.

However, I take major issues with this article for multiple reasons.

1.) It reveals the real names of the victim and her caregiver. At least, there is absolutely no indication otherwise. It reveals specific details about the case, and is to specific about the current location of the victim. This type of reporting could potentially put the victim back in harms way if members of the trafficking network are still at large.

2.) There is not one statement from the victim. Her story is told entirely by her godmother. There is no indication the victim wanted to tell her story, or wanted her trauma to be advertised in a public manner. Consent is not present at all. This quote from the godmother, in particular, infuriated me:
"I am speaking out to you to say to any single mother or any adolescent, 'If you are offered a good job, do not be dazzled by the high salaries, because the price you pay is too heavy'," she says.

"We do not always have the courage to talk about trafficking, but we must be open about these things so this story is not repeated in other families."

It's not necessarily what the godmother said that upsets me. It indicates that she was well-intentioned to help other families prevent this tragedy from happening to someone they love. And I understand she is distraught by the whole event, too.

But the author should have been more responsible! There are ways of writing this kind of story with the same powerful effect on readers without revealing so many details that it runs the risk of putting the victim back in danger or of retraumatizing her by making her story permanently public. Especially if no traffickers have actually been convicted and there is no indication that the victim actually wanted it to be told. The article offers better protection of the traffickers than it does the victim! It even acknowledges that few people have actually been convicted of the crime in Central America. So you release an article with details about a victim before her traffickers have been convicted in a part of the world notorious for not convicting traffickers? This author needs to learn a way to report this problem responsibly. Her writing style is effective, but if she contributes to the victim's suffering, it doesn't mean a damn thing.

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