We live in a world of visual representations; from the silver screen to scrolling through our social media feeds, we are bombarded with images throughout our daily lives. Quite often it’s hard to find the time to think about what these images mean and how they make you feel, but they do provoke a response, even if it’s fleeting. The ongoing problem of objectification is closely linked to this bombardment of images. When you hear the term ‘objectification’ a series of images may spring to mind. Images which objectify people can present different identities in a particular way, leading to the creation of stereotypes. It seems there is a constant battle for fair representation in the public sphere.
Objectification boils down to the argument that: a ‘subject’ is something which is active and has agency, whereas an ‘object’ is something that is seen to be passive, something which is acted upon. In society, it is often thought that whilst men are ascribed the status of subjects, women are merely seen as passive objects. I think this is particularly true for images relating to human trafficking. Simply type ‘human trafficking’ into an image search and you are presented with a series of stereotypical images such as these images below, among others:
Some argue that these images are created to be controversial in order to shock viewers into action –but do they achieve action or do they turn people off?
In my opinion, images depicting human trafficking like this do more harm than good. Most mainstream images of human trafficking tend to focus solely on white females, who are portrayed as powerless victims of sexual exploitation. This simplifies human trafficking to solely ‘sex trafficking’, disempowers survivors and obscures the reality of what human trafficking is and who it affects. This portrayal, ultimately, fuels misinformation and makes it more difficult for services and organisations working to identify and support survivors. It may make it more difficult for services to identify potential trafficking activity if people are not informed about it.
No matter what sector you’re working in, how you present the individuals you are working to support is paramount. When I started working at the Project, I particularly valued how they had chosen to represent their work and the women they support. The Snowdrop Project focuses specifically on ‘survivors’, highlighting the bright, happy and safe future of hopes and possibilities open to them. For us, long-term support is a journey for survivors and, where we can, we want to focus on the possibilities. That’s not to mean that everything is plain sailing; it’s called a long-term for a reason.
Although raising awareness of human trafficking is obviously vital to a future free from trafficking, misrepresentations which further stigmatise survivors are not the way forward. Instead, more should be done to represent the true reality of what human trafficking ‘looks’ like, in order to help people recognise the signs and to reduce the stigma for survivors.
We’re not alone in wanting to ensure trafficking and survivors are depicted in the truest way possible; there have been several campaigns which have tried to address this issue through the presentation of real people’s stories. Take, for example, organisations like Unchosen, whose videos strive to educate people on what modern slavery is. You can watch Unchosen films here to get a glimpse into different representations of survivor’s experiences and begin to critique how survivors are represented.
Written by Megan Bethell, Snowdrop Project’s Office and Communications Manager