Antitrafficking Pop Culture: A Few More Thoughts
September 28, 2023
Antitrafficking Pop Culture: A Few More Thoughts
Responses to the movie Sound of Freedom movie raise important questions about victimhood, saviorhood, and how survivors are represented in the media. Because of the ways people are still engaging with SOF, I felt some additional commentary would be helpful. For us at NCCASA it is always all about survivors and whether they are getting the help they need, which is the focus for this follow-up to my earlier piece, The Sound of Freedom and Antitrafficking Pop Culture.
The Truth Should Set Us Free.
Portrayals of sexual violence in the media only represent popular narratives about who are the victims, perpetrators, and heroes reinforce myths that keep survivors silent and sidelined. Here are some ways it happens:
- Stranger danger and abductions are the assumed norm for people who experience sexual violence and human trafficking. These assumptions are connected to the idea of the “perfect victim” in which survivors are either credible or complicit in their own assaults. Innocence is only reserved for the status quo, which communicates to marginalized survivors that they don’t matter.
- Pop culture plays on fears and assumptions about the criminal tendency of foreign nationals who can only be vanquished by super cool white saviors. Radical forms of patriotism and “we look out for our own” can be “weaponized” to stoke these fears.
- Popular culture that promotes the bad brown man vs the good ole boys provides cover and misdirection for the white perpetrators who hold positions of power and respect such as the ones who sit on city councils and mentor at-risk youth.
Pushback to the Pushback
The tendency in American public life to value the voice of the status quo over the voices of those with lived experience stands in the way of truthful representations of how we perceive, talk about, and receive information about sexual violence.
For example, some survivors who have spoken out against Sound of Freedom are publicly shut down as is shared in this article:
“If I share anything publicly that’s opposing the film I get a lot of name-calling, a lot of lashing back,” Jose Lewis Alfaro, a sex and labor trafficking survivor who now works as a consultant and lived experience expert on trafficking issues, said. “It’s just really interesting to me how people are more than willing to hear a wealthy rich man’s superhero story and aren’t willing to trust and listen to those who have actually lived through it.”
We have heard of instances where those who raise issues with SOF are called groomers or pedophiles. This is irresponsible. “Groomer” and “pedophilia” are technical terms used to discuss child sexual abuse. They carry serious weight. Unfortunately, they have become popular nomenclature in the culture wars and are intentionally or unintentional misused and confused with other terms related to child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking.
These powerful words should not be slurs or used to shut down cultural/political opponents. Those who use these words to shame or accuse others may be providing cover unknowingly for the real groomers who exist within one’s own cultural or political circles. Child sexual abuse exists everywhere and those who are sincerely concerned with children’s health and safety will deal with their own implicit bias when it comes to who is harmed and being harmed.
Will the Real Heroes Please Take the Stage?
When we make “saving survivors” all about one man, one family, or one organization, we expose our belief that good intentions cover all. We expose our biased judgments that the wealthy and strong are the right ones to speak for and rescue and the poor from themselves and others.
Raids-based human trafficking response focuses on the spokesperson, how much they care, and their tactical knowledge and networks. It focuses on the activity of the raids and how grateful the rescuers are for their sacrifices.
The cool person on the rescue organization’s website mentions aftercare but gives no description of what that means to a survivor. The only details are reserved for the rescuer and what they have endured and given up snatching those kids and transport them to “aftercare.” The word “aftercare” sounds so nice, so neat, but those who do the work use other words to describe survivors’ journey from hell to healing.
Let’s honor those who, without fame, notoriety, or fortune, wear themselves out to help kids who have endured the trauma of sex trafficking, who pick up where other organizations have dropped: kids who were judged to be too difficult, too damaged, too broken, too defiant or distrustful to accept the help offered them. How organizations talk about survivors who no longer want help, or do not change fast enough gives tremendous insight into the quality of their work.
Instead, listen and learn from those in your community who serve youth who live and struggle with the trauma from sex trafficking. Those who don’t make the work about themselves, and often labor unseen and unsung.
I’d like to end with a few mentions:
- I am grateful for those in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program whose job it is to view child sexual abuse materials in order to identify the victims and perpetrators– work that many of us cannot even fathom being able to do.
- I am grateful for North Carolina’s rape crisis and domestic violence agenices whose work in serving 368 human trafficking survivors from July 2020 to June 2021 is represented in the NC Human Trafficking Commission’s 2022-2023 Fact Sheet.
- I am also grateful for the work of survivors who created the resource Survivor-Vetted Films About Human Trafficking which offers accurate representations of human trafficking. The project is headed up by Sabra Boyd, a journalist, public speaker, and child trafficking survivor whose work is invaluable.
“Antitrafficking pop culture” is probably not going away anytime soon. However, the more survivors’ voices are lifted and regarded as the real experts, myth-based awareness and vanity pieces of would-be heroes should fall to the wayside.