26 August 2014

How the Media Causes Harm

Today, there are numerous sources to acquire your news, from newspapers, magazines, and television to online media and social platforms. With the fierce competition between media outlets, there is a frenzy to provide up-to-date and exciting coverage to maintain and increase viewership. Media coverage is often the only way we receive information about different cultures, city problems, and global issues and have a large impact on how we are perceiving the world around us. Depending on what the media chooses to show us, it can often encourage extreme emotions that can influence us to love and immortalize a person and/or condemn others and create animosity.

Media events such as the kidnappings by Boko Haram, the rise and fall of Somaly Mam, and the CNN Freedom Project, we see every sliver of information related to these situations splashed everywhere in our media outlets. Of course, this only happens for a few days/weeks, until something else grabs national attention.  

When a single event is in the spotlight, as was with the fall of Somaly Mam, it can cause a backlash.  No one can argue Somaly Mam brought worldwide exposure to human trafficking. However, her swift rise to the spotlight and the vicious portrayal of her downfall may have caused long-lasting damage to many anti-human trafficking organizations that do right by the individuals who are trapped in this vicious industry. Many organizations around the world may now have to go through additional levels of investigation before they are given funds, which will delay their programs. 

There will always be an abundance of news, but it is important not to get caught up in this whirlwind of media coverage because the media influences how we see see each other and the world, sometimes negatively. Having our views shaped by the media can change them in ways we may not have wanted. We may view organizations and individuals through new lenses that have vilified or glamorized another organization or individual. So what can we do?  Avoid the media? Of course not.  But tread lightly and never just accept what lies before you. Consider it your duty to look deeper and analyze how your thoughts and words are affected by the way the media presents the world around us. Ask yourself why you are being called to action.  Why a certain photograph is being used. How will vilifying one person who is the face of anti- sex trafficking affect others. Ask yourself questions and look deeper to what is the real message that is being conveyed.  

You may be surprised to find the answer.

18 August 2014

The Butterfly Project: How We Began and Some Thoughts About 'Trust' and 'Disclosure'.......

A number of Chab Dai aftercare organizations in Cambodia expressed their desire to understand more about the long-term impacts of their programs on victims/survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking. At this time, no one organization had the capacity to conduct long-term follow up on their clients leaving their programs. Hence, the idea of a cooperative effort began to grow. The Butterfly Project is the first longitudinal re-integration research study that seeks to follow a group of sexually exploited/trafficked youth and adults over a ten year period. We started in 2010 and we are now in year five of our journey.

The core objectives of the Butterfly research are two-fold.  The first objective is to hear the ‘voice’ of victims/survivors who have (re-) integrated out of aftercare and community programs, and through their ‘voice’ they can inform the practitioner community in Cambodia. The second objective is to disseminate our findings and lessons learned amongst mixed audiences of other practitioners, policy makers and academics within the wider region and global community.

The Butterfly project is like any other study in that participation is voluntary. A participant has the right to drop out at any time. Yet, when the point of the study is to follow a group of the same people over a period of time, then attrition or dropping out is an issue. We anticipated this challenge from the beginning and, at five years, we are still in contact with the majority of our 128 participants. Aside from working hard to maintain the database on our participants’ most current whereabouts, we believe the primary reason they voluntarily remain in our study is because they trust us (the research team).

Essentially, every participant in our study has experienced some degree of sexual trauma, and a number of studies suggest that severe trauma exposure results in and is associated with negative impacts on memory. We sense this may be true for some of our participants, as year to year their answers vary and even contradict what they have said previously. We also find participants’ varying emotional states, their family dynamics, their relationships and their financial securities are all matters which affect how they respond at any given interview. Many of our older participants are in violent and abusive relationships whilst younger participants often describe difficulties with their peers. Others work in dangerous work contexts, and most are struggling to meet their economic needs.

Most of our participants live with feeling stigmatized for their past experiences of sexual exploitation and so most live with many secrets. We have found that as each year progresses, increasing numbers of participants are telling us they trust us enough to disclose more of their stories. They express how therapeutic it feels to share their feelings and experiences with our team.

Many have also told us they continue in the study because they feel valued as individuals and not just subjects in a research project. They state that they feel respected, appreciated and honored because we ask them about their lives and their opinions. In addition, a number of them have stated that they appreciate the opportunity to express their ‘voice’ because they hope their insights and experiences will help others in similar circumstance.

Our team feels each participant is unique. We are thankful they trust us enough and are willing to express their ‘voice.’  It is such a privilege to journey along with them, and we hope through their stories they feel empowered and that their voice will empower future generations.

If you would like any of our annual reports and themed papers please visit the Chab Dai website

Siobhan Miles, Butterfly manager