Media & Public Perception

Public Media Partnerships

A common challenge for task forces (and anti-trafficking organizations in general) is managing public media partnerships. Public media partnerships can be useful for marketing the task force’s efforts and in raising public awareness of trafficking. Cultivating a working relationship with interested journalists through frequent personal contact may result in improved coverage of task force events, public awareness campaigns, or other efforts.

Task Force Examples

Letter to the Community: The Orange County Task Force provided a letter to the community from the Chief of Police discouraging citizens from conducting their own investigations and informing them of the national hotline numbers.

Human Trafficking and the Media: This PowerPoint presentation from the annual Freedom Network Conference provides actionable tips on how to address the media. It includes how to create a media strategy, questions for various agencies, case studies, lessons learned, and examples.

It is important to note the limitations of these resources or partnerships. Dedicated resources and a strong and clear protocol should be put in place for what information is shared on a website or how to engage media partners. Regular reviews of this protocol should be conducted to ensure that information shared with the public does not jeopardize the victims’ safety, the safety of victim advocates, investigations, or prosecutions.

The Media and Human Trafficking Cases

The media can be either extremely helpful or detrimental to a human trafficking legal case. When helpful, the media may draw attention to a case and gain the sympathy of the public, including influential individuals who may be in positions to assist the trafficking survivor. The media may help to educate the public on trafficking and to create interest in, and the political will for, support for task force operations. When detrimental, the media may be extremely harmful to a case and can create safety issues for the trafficking survivor and other witnesses. If the information released is incorrect or controlled by the trafficker, the false or harmful information may be more traumatizing for the trafficking survivor and negatively change public perception. In addition, if media stories are released early in the process, without proper time and resources devoted to investigation of the case, such stories can alert the traffickers to dispose of evidence and align their story with that of others. Because of these issues, it is important to develop a concrete media plan for task force partners that revolves first around the safety of the survivor and the second, integrity of any investigations.

Working with Survivors

Task forces may often work with the media to share survivor's stories with the general public. Task force members should help in detracting against survivors just telling stories. Awareness is important, but empowering survivors to be more than their story is more important, for all parties involved. Task forces can help keep the media from sensationalizing the issue (whether for ratings or funding) and from using a victim as the face of the issue, while empowering survivors to apply expertise in certain other ways or choose to avoid the media and the public eye. Simply being a survivor does not equal being an expert, and survivors should be encouraged to develop their skills in any/all ways, whether human trafficking-related or not.

Media organizations, conferences, or other events asking survivors to speak publically should provide or offer a safety person or law enforcement escort to assist.

Managing Public Interest in Human Trafficking

It is necessary to manage the public interest and create parameters of involvement to help ensure that interested community members are not engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as attempting to conduct their own investigations or victim rescues. The public should not engage in surveillance or rescue efforts, nor should non-law enforcement coordinated groups such as nonprofits. When possible, the task force's public awareness and outreach committee should take opportunities to educate reporters on the topic fully. See more in Section 3.3 for information about Outreach & Awareness.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 3.4 Addressing Common Operational Challenges.