Storytelling in Anti-Human Trafficking Enterprises

It’s not just a job, it’s a calling and a project wrought with passion. A way to leave the world better than you found it, because right now, at this very moment, people are suffering. And the suffering is not in some far-flung corner of the globe. It’s here in our towns, on our streets, and in our very own backyards.

Human trafficking isn’t a myth or an anomaly. It’s not some cautionary tale from humanity’s more barbaric past. It is happening today, at this very moment. Studies show, in fact, that human trafficking is a thriving industry, with an estimated 46 million people currently enslaved at a value of more than $150 billion to the traffickers.

When you commit to fight to end this scourge, you may feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, not sure where to start. It begins with shining a bright spotlight on this monster who flourishes in the darkness. But how do you tell the stories of human trafficking without sensationalizing or exploiting survivors’ stories? How do you tell the truth in a way that will make a real, tangible difference in the lives of those who have survived and to those who are still struggling to survive?

This article provides specific strategies for telling the stories of human trafficking in a way that is both respectful and effective. It is important to get these stories out because survivors and those still enslaved don’t need your readers’ sympathy. They need their action.

Be Specific and Real

Readers are not going to respond to vague abstractions, platitudes, or sermons. You don’t need try to whip readers up into some emotional frenzy, histrionically trying to show them how wrong human trafficking is. They already know this.

What they don’t know are the specific stories of individual sufferers, and that is what they need to read. They need someone to humanize the problem for them, so that it is no longer just a faceless problem. The numbers can be overwhelming, after all, but being able to apply just one person’s story to those breathtaking statistics can make human trafficking “real” for your reader. If you feel like you’re not yet fully prepared to tackle these kinds of stories, consider taking classes or training yourself otherwise in the basics of being a better writer. After all, the way in which you present these important stories is going to have an effect on how they’re perceived — you’ll want to be performing at your very best.

Educate But Don’t Preach

Telling the stories of human trafficking is not just about inspiring action. It’s also about raising awareness. Make people note the simple fact is that human trafficking is going on all around us, all the time. We simply don’t see it because we don’t understand the signs.

Human trafficking rarely happens in the forms we imagine. Yes, the trafficking of girls and women for sexual purposes is a significant portion of the industry, and those are the stories that tend to be the ones that receive the vast majority of media attention, but boys and men are also routinely trafficked, and enslavement takes many forms. People may be trafficked, for instance, to be domestic servants or agricultural workers. They may be immigrants or refugees, but they may also be natural-born citizens. They may be children and teens, but there are also millions of adults and even elderly persons.

When you are telling the stories of human trafficking, be real but also be unexpected. Show the sides of human trafficking that people simply don’t know about. Every true story is a mini-lesson and every narrative is an education in the mechanisms of the industry that the traffickers don’t want us to know about.

With every story you tell, you are opening the reader’s eyes a little wider, making it that much harder for the traffickers to do their work in the darkness. If you can teach your readers to spot just one sign they may have otherwise missed, you could well save a life or many lives.

The Takeaway

Telling the stories of human trafficking is both a privilege and a responsibility. When survivors entrust you with their testimony, they do so because they trust that you will use it for a purpose and turn pain into power. When done well, it is no small task, but it can save lives. It can put the monsters, the perpetrators of such heinous acts, in cages where they belong. When you take on such a responsibility, however, it is important to be strategic.

You need to harness the techniques of good storytelling to ensure that your readers don’t just respond to your pieces with quickly passing emotion. You want them to be moved, to learn, and to act, so focus on specificity and concreteness. Put faces to the statistics. Give the names behind the numbers. Take care, also, to educate as well as incite. Try to figure out what your readers don’t know or understand about human trafficking, and use real stories to fill in those blanks. Above all, don’t fall into the temptation to sermonize. Don’t preach. If you tell the survivors’ stories well enough, your reader will get the lesson. They will make their own moral judgments and decide how to act. Trust the story to speak for itself, and trust your readers to listen.

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