The present qualitative study explores advocates’ opinions of misinformation about human trafficking in the media and describes advocates’ strategies to counter the misinformation presented by the media. Thus, 15 advocates who work against human trafficking in Chicago-based nonprofit organizations participated in semistructured interviews about their opinions and strategies. Data were analyzed using thematic content analysis. The present study identifies specific misperceptions of human trafficking in the media, highlights advocates’ opinions of this misinformation, and discusses advocates’ strategies to counteract inaccurate media, adding support to the role of media advocacy.
Advocates note how media images shape and perpetuate stereotypes of trafficking through glamorizing sex work and sensationalizing stories that are most often international depictions of trafficking. Advocates report media generally shares only a piece of the story, simplifying the stories of survivors and the issue of human trafficking. Advocates critique media perpetuating these misperceptions for how they may contribute to policies and programs which fail to address structural factors that create vulnerabilities to be trafficked and the multisystem needs of survivors. However, advocates also note misperceptions can be counteracted by producing sensitive, informed media through social platforms. Advocates share their strategies counteracting misinformation through engaging in informative conversations, utilizing social media to educate, and promoting media messages of survivor agency. Research, clinical, and policy implications are also discussed. The present study emphasizes the importance of decision makers and service providers being critical consumers of media and to assess how media portrayals may (or may not) inform their understanding and response to the issue.
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