DRUG TRADE FEEDS ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING
MEDIA Monitoring Africa’s Melanie Hamman of the Child Protection and Human Trafficking Project, raised the issue of human trafficking which, she suggested, had been omitted in an article in the Sunday Times. (Woman tells of ordeal as drug-mule slave, January 15, 2012).
She raises several issues, including that:
Human trafficking is most often a willful violation of another’s most basic human rights and can only be referred to in this case as slavery.
This woman did not just make a bad decision and get stuck in a situation she didn’t want to be in, she was intentionally fooled, lied to, offered false promises, transported, held captive, forced to undertake illegal activities and raped.
Failing to name and identify the crime is similar to ignoring the rape of a rape survivor. It is also a denial of a bigger crime.
By not identifying the crime as human trafficking, the dignity of the victim is harmed, as it denies the full horror of her experience.
It is crucial that it is identified, if not for the sake of the woman in the story, but to acknowledge that this is what happens to South Africans, particularly the most vulnerable, who usually don’t have access to the protection they need.
Acknowledging that this is a story of human trafficking also brings into stark relief the ethical issue of naming and photographing the woman concerned. The risks in doing so are profound, given that she is a witness to her own abduction, that she is a victim of sexual assault, all of which is under investigation. The decision to name and identify her is all the more extraordinary given that the article also states that she is in a witness protection programme.
While the woman may have given consent for her name to be used, it is not clear that there was informed consent when dealing with a person in a state of trauma.
Many readers will agree that it was indeed a gripping account of the horrors of drug trafficking. It may serve as a warning to others to be cautious in dealing with people who offer fantastic opportunities.
It is often said that poverty is the main reason why people get caught in drug and sex trafficking. Mostly, they get no sympathy if they are caught, and in some cases are marginalised in their communities.
Yet, it is critical that the stories be told, but in telling them, to consider their impact on the victims, their families, and all around them. If the victim in this case had been a child, Sunday Times would have dealt with it differently, not only because there are laws which protect young victims, but because of our sensitivity towards the child and acknowledging its vulnerability.
The US State Department’s 2011 report on human trafficking conservatively estimates that this “industry” has an annual revenue of over $32bn, and 800 000 people are forcibly enslaved and transported across borders every year – and it is women and children who are susceptible to being used as drug mules, labourers and sex workers.
Avusa ’ s policy on reporting about children is clear. It states, among others, that we consider the consequences of our reporting on children, and to take steps, where appropriate, to minimise the harm.
Perhaps, as Hamman points out, this should have been a consideration about the victim. Would not naming her have devalued the story? Probably not. Would it have helped if the visual identity of the woman had been obscured? Definitely, as she is in a witness protection programme.
However, we must not shirk from our responsibility to publish information in the public interest.
And, as Hamman states, human trafficking stories are
“incredibly newsworthy, they are powerful and important stories, that tend to impact the most vulnerable. They can also be told with sensitivity and dignity and powerfully without putting the victims and survivors at further risk”. I agree with that.
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VICTIM: Nolubabalo Nobanda was arrested in Thailand for allegedly smuggling drugs