Sunday World - - Opinion - Public Ed­i­tor Joe Latakgomo

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.

Readers can e-mail the Public Ed­i­tor at latak­go­moj@avusa.co.za to log con­cerns, com­plaints or is­sues, or fax 011-280-5151 or phone 011-280-5112

VIC­TIM: Nol­uba­balo Nobanda was ar­rested in Thai­land for al­legedly smug­gling drugs

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