Comment: The Media

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Salamon Alapitvany (
Wed, 20 May 1998 13:50:22 -0700

Dear List,

When we post to Stop-traffic, we post to a professional group with direct
links or interests in "trafficking" we present ourselves accordingly. We do
not consider the postings to be for the public domain and we do not
consider them press releases. We have explicitly asked for our postings and
reports not to be passed off-list and especially not to the media.

We believe it is an accepted convention that if someone wants to pass a
posting to someone off-list that they ask the consent of the author. We
would therefore ask that if someone wants to pass our postings off-list
that they ask us first.

We accept that our postings might provoke dissent and debate, but we expect
that through the list such issues might be addressed and considered. The
need for dialogue and greater understanding of the diversity of trafficking
is a priority for us as an agency.

We have received the following unsolicited message from a journalist, and
we reproduce it here without reference to the author, partly out of pique
and partly because it is on-subject for the list.

Dear Tanya
I read with interest your e-mail to stop-traffic...which was forwarded
to me by a friend who works for the Global Association Against
Trafficking in Women in Thailand.
I'm a journalist and have written stories on trafficking for women's
magazines. You are absolutely right in your assessment: certain editors
have definite pre-ordained ideas about the kind of story they want and
will often settle for nothing less. And interestingly they are often the
most successful editors as well in terms of driving circulation figures.
As a freelance journalist it can be very frustrating. But obviously the
journalist has to make a choice about whether they are prepared to
pursue a story which albeit factually correct, will do nothing to break
the cycle of clichés that surround issues like prostitution.
I will add however that I'm sure if you call MC's editor in the UK and
ask if she has ever commissioned the reverse of the "sex slave" story,
she is sure to have done at some point.
But I do agree with one underlying point in your e-mail and that is that
unfortunately the media often pander to simple stereotypical views when
it comes to complex issues.

Message ends.

Our reply was:

Dear Bevan,

Thank you for your message regarding media treatment of trafficking.

We note that you have written stories for magazines on "trafficking" do
your stories address the issue of consenting sex workers who use
traffickers to facilitate their travel ?

Do your stories acknowledge the existence of undocumented migrants who
travel specifically to participate in sex work ?

How much do successful editors pay for a double page "sex slave" feature
with photos ?

We are quite sure that MC has not run or sought an article that would offer
a fuller context and balance to sex work migration.

We would welcome your replies, as we are concerned for agencies new to
"trafficking" to understand the various agendas and priorities of the
media. Many agencies do not understand that the media does not necessarily
share our professional interests or agenda.

Thank you for your time.

Kati Kovacs

Salamon Alapitvany.

Bevan appears to us to be a genuine and consideration person, but it is
important for agencies to understand the pressures on journalists and the
demands made by "successful" editors for stories that will fit their agenda
for sales and better profits. Sex sells..

We would contend that there is considerable need for many agencies to
develop far more sophisticated strategies for dealing with the media than
they presently exercise. Maybe it is time to offer training for journalists
and editors on the issues ?

Without better media management "trafficking" will remain firmly in the
"sex sells" category of journalist endeavour. The scare stories can be
useful for spicing up a fund-raising application or addressing a new and
general audience about generic problems but after a while they will only
devalue the professional content of any project.

Engagement with the media is a crucial area for consideration and our own
preference is to enable migrants to have direct access to new media types
such as local cable TV, local radio, Internet, community newsletters. The
formal media is a powerful priesthood that offers fantastic and shamanistic
remedies, but only in as much as the remedies serve their own interests.

Empowering migrants with access to public access media, offers greater
credibility and honesty in addressing the complexities of undocumented
migration. It also offers context and balance to the formal media.

Best regards

John Davies

Salamon Alapitvany and IldikoK Memorial Civil Rights Institute
Working for Peace and Equitable Justice for all Marginalised People
Seeking to include Sex Workers within Civil Society without descrimination
Believing in Change through Consensus not Repression.
From Wed May 20 14:56:14 1998
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From: "Salamon Alapitvany" <>
To: "stop-traffic" <>
Subject: Comment: The La Strada video
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 20:42:48 -0700
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Dear all,

With regards to the La Strada video I have sympathy and empathy with both
recent correspondents. It is important that we acknowledge the transitional
period that now exists in the CEE, and consider the audience that the
production was intended to address, but it is also important that when we
seek functional engagement through such mediums we also have a clear
understanding of the importance of establishing a coherent and thorough
public understanding of the complexities of coerced/deceitful migration and
forced labour.

The innocent deceived sex slave stereotype does appear to play to the media
agenda and as such it is easy to confuse extensive coverage with actual
achievement. However this is a learning curve that many agencies go
through, I remember 20 years ago thinking that my press cutting scrap book
was a vital validation of my work, and then I just got bored with the
repetitive drivel that didn't actually get me the results I wanted.

Now I prefer to get the beneficiaries if they want, into any form of public
access media, and have them speak for themselves, much more messy and
complicated, but far more satisfying. We are presently arranging for local
sex workers to produce information videos regarding sex work and migration
for presentation to schools and local cable TV.

If the La Strada video is considered as a first presentation for a truly
naïve community that needs to factor in coercion and deceit when
considering foreign travel, then the video could be a useful tool for high
school students and other groups of young vulnerable women, as well as
creating general consideration and concern. However if such concern results
in restrictions on the civil rights of women and discriminatory behaviour
towards consensual sex workers then it will have failed as a strategy.

Sometimes we can demand too much sophistication from a medium trying to
communicate a very simple message. However I would be interested to know if
such considerations were part of the preparatory process or did the need
for media acceptance lead the production.

False advertising plays a small but distressing part of "trafficking" by
deceit in Hungary. The worst offending advertisers are usually single old
men in Austria and Germany looking for a housekeeper and sex partner, their
adverts are not explicit and as such invite misunderstandings and
confusion. They was one amusing case of a British nudist who wanted a
Hungarian au-pair who would have to do the housework in the nude. The first
girl went knowing what was required, there was no sexual content, but she
found the job too demanding. After some local media attention a successful
placement was eventually made. Other young women have suffered coercion and

However our survey of seventy young Hungarian non-sex work women 16-24, who
we asked to consider adverts for overseas work and assess the same as
potential sex work opportunities, showed that overwhelmingly that young
women in our area knew exactly what positions might involve sex work, and
the majority were quite explicit about taking precautions to prevent being
drawn into coerced sex work if they went abroad for work, such as taking up
references on an employer or asking consular staff about the status of a
certain business and if they were not satisfied about the bon-fides of an
employer the vast majority said they would refuse the employment.

We also asked 12 local pimps who control approximately 50 sex working
women, if they would forcibly or deceitfully traffic a woman for sex work
in a foreign country, all of them said that they would want to make sure
the woman had experience of sex work before she left Hungary and that if
she did not willingly participate in sex work in Hungary they would not
force her to migrate for sex work. However if the woman was a consenting
and experienced sex worker they would consider putting the pressure on if a
considerable sum of money was involved.

It definitely appears that existing sex workers are the most vulnerable to
coerced migration in our area.

The vast majority of women we work with prefer to do their sex work inside
Hungary and only usually migrate outside when the local police are too
oppressive. Yesterday five women arrived back after several weeks away and
called in for condoms and a chat. One had been kidnapped by rival pimps and
forced to work near Balaton, when she was put out on the road to work she
had contacted her own pimp with a client's mobile telephone and he had
driven up and rescued her. Pimp/business manager and sex workers
relationships can be very complex.

I also remember that "trafficking" as the facilitation of illegal
migration, as a well established practice in the CEE, before 1989,
"trafficking" meant paying illegal bribes for a passport and permission to
travel. In Romanian, sex for a passport was a common phenomena, I remember
in Brasov in 1985, how local women, sex workers and non-sex workers would
often have to have sex with various officials to get their passports. I
also belonged to an organisation that would assist ethnic Hungarian flee
Romania by illegal border crossings. We were supposedly traffickers on a
grand scale, but our noble cause of helping an oppressed ethnic minority
appeared to redeem us from the stigma of being " evil people traffickers"
as the Romanian nationalists called us. However other people were paid to
help the ethnic Hungarians cross the border, but they too offered a much
needed service that people were willing to use.

Hopefully increasing exchange of know-how and the sharing of professional
experience will allow all agencies concerned with the prevention of coerced
or deceitful migration for forced labour to acquire increasingly effective
and sophisticated systems for achieving wide-spread prevention.

Aside from any consideration of the La Strada video, manufacturing
widespread and hysterical fear of foreign employment is also a negative
strategy that can particularly adversely affect the opportunities of young
women. In Albania numerous newspaper articles have constructed a popular
mythology that almost every form of foreign employment for young women is
probably a front for prostitution. We have had at least three young women
restrained by their families from travelling for training participation at
our project because of the widespread fear that any single woman leaving
Albania will be pressed into prostitution. We also know of young women
denied opportunity to leave Albania for other foreign study by their
families because of unrealistic fears regarding prostitution. What is
needed is ways for women to be able to establish the validity of foreign
opportunities and not to subject them and their families to paralysing

I have just received a tragic letter from a young Albanian woman whose
family prevented her from spending a training year with our project last
year because of her father's fear that she might be forced into
prostitution in Hungary. Three months ago she was kidnapped by a casual
boyfriend who took her to another town and forced into prostitution while
held in an apartment inside Albania. She was eventually ransomed back to
her family who now want her to take a place with us.

Fear is no substitute for genuine understanding and knowledge.

We are all looking forward to the conference and hope to meet many of you

Best regards

John Davies.

Salamon Alapitvany and IldikoK Memorial Civil Rights Institute
Working for Peace and Equitable Justice for all Marginalised People
Seeking to include Sex Workers within Civil Society without descrimination
Believing in Change through Consensus not Repression.
From Thu May 21 03:54:40 1998
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Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 14:50:39 +0700
To: stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU,
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From: GAATW <>
Subject: Re: Comment: The Media

At 11:58 20/5/98 -0400, Salamon Alapitvany wrote:
>Dear List,
>When we post to Stop-traffic, we post to a professional group with direct
>links or interests in "trafficking" we present ourselves accordingly. We do
>not consider the postings to be for the public domain and we do not
>consider them press releases. We have explicitly asked for our postings and
>reports not to be passed off-list and especially not to the media.

Dear John Davies,

Regarding the posting which was passed to the journalist, I am very sorry
for this misunderstanding. My intention is not to make the list unsafe for
members or not respect to the author of the posting. Ms. Bevan is going to
be involved in some work with GAATW thereby I passed her the posting to
better her understanding of the diversity of trafficking issue.

I apologise for this and will keep strictly on the rule.

Your sincerely,

Nattaya Boonpakdee
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
The International Coordination Office,
P.O.Box 1281 Bangrak Post Office,
Bangkok 10500 THAILAND.

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