Humans are moved and inspired by stories. No other species has the ability to tell stories. We remember by story better than any other form of communication.
But the stories of the trafficked are often sensationalized to raise money, sell media, and sell shock value significance. Now, the consideration point is “Not my story to tell.” How do I as an advocate for individuals empower survivors – to speak, to remain silent, and what to say?
The choice to speak the truth of what happened is challenging. In representing former slaves, trafficking victims, torture survivors or child sex assault victims this decision is fundamental for any goal. I am in a very different role than law enforcement, researchers, and academia. I am the human hired to give voice and get justice. I am not the person who studies or arrests.
I have the role of giving voice and telling the story in the way it can make a difference. The choice to speak or not to speak sets the course for the future. Both are equally powerful for the person who lived the story.
Speaking raises “awareness.” But awareness is not a measurable societal outcome. It is measurable in terms of the response and attention that the speaker receives. And the response is not always positive.
Speaking can lead to individual justice through criminal convictions and civil judgments. But it is terrifying for the person who lived the story. Fear of retribution. Fear of cross examination. Fear of judgment. Fear of being public. These are all real considerations. A judgment, however, is like a public vote of confidence. And it can be rewarding at the end of the Court experience.
Speaking to media is unpredictable.
I worked with a 5280 Magazine reporter on a trafficking story, and I regret it. The reporter agreed never to re-victimize a trafficking survivor. She promised not to be sensational. But she buckled to the fact that shock sells. She reported the name of a victim and graphic details that will never serve the victim. It is now in print forever. It is on line forever.
I will never work with any reporter again; my clients will retain complete control over their story, where it is told, how it is told, and who hears it. My clients will be the ones who benefit from telling their story, if they chose to do so. Reporters, movie makers, and media will not be middle men solely profiting from the telling of the story.
Three of my clients are writing books about their lives. The stories are theirs to share, and I hope their words change the world.