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Sandy Skelaney addressed the March Human Trafficking Coalition Meeting regarding Human Trafficking and the Media

Sandy Skelaney addressed the HTCPB with her presentation, "Media Goes Wild; The Spectacle that is Human Trafficking" about the implications of exposing human trafficking victims to the media. 
After starting Project Gold at Kristi House in 2007, they received a lot of media requests and became, in essence, the gatekeepers to domestic minor sex trafficking victims. 

After reviewing the google images pages of search word, human trafficking, we see photos of light-skinned, attractive, female victims; shackled, chained, or caged; with dark-skinned hands or perpetrators or as Sandy refers to them as the "Kids in Cages" imagery. She discussed the subliminal messages this is potentially sending to reviewers of this information. The media shapes reality so there are consequences to the distortion such as being unable to decifer true victims and desensitization that occurs. 

On the flip side, we need media to bring attention to the good work organizations are doing and bring awareness to the causes. Over the last decade, Sandy identified many positive changes in the media coverage of Human Trafficking. She has noted their use of victim vs criminal, the term human trafficking is used vs child prostitute, and there has been a decrease of the verbiage, "victimless crime."

Regardless of the detail or perceived impact of the victim, their story matters and is important. There are many pros and cons to exposing the victim to the media:

  • Can empower the victim
  • Engages the audience in the cause
  • General awareness of the issue
  • The victim is the voice of their own experience
  • Success stories inspire others to come forward to to succeed

  • It puts the victim at-risk
  • Victims may feel coerced or used
  • The story never disappears. Ever.
  • No privacy
  • May not be emotionally prepared
  • Sexual history is made public domain

Sandy stressed the importance of preparing the survivor by asking 4 main questions:

  1. Is there any part of your past you are ashamed of?
  2. Is there any part of your present you are ashamed of?
  3. Is there anything you don't want your family to know?
  4. How would you feel if you were recognized and approached in public?

Mishaps with media can happen. Sandy stated it is important to learn from these mistakes and prepare for them in the future. She discussed that there are some blunders that will be beyond the control of yourself and your survivor so it is important to pre-brief, debrief, follow up, debrief again, and debrief again.She also talked about the importance of safe words between the service provider and victim so if the service provider needed to cut the interview short, they could. Sandy recommended having pre-drafted talking points that are bulleted and sticking to those. She also recommends if possible, to request a list of questions from reporters so service providers and screen them. She listed some issues that have occurred in past cases in regard to media exposure:

Victim's Initials are Published. This is a problem because people within their circles including service providers can be identified, especially if they have had prior contact with various service systems like DJJ or DCF. 

TV Clips of Key Note Spliced/Edited to Make Crying Appear from Pimp. The victim felt like her story was edited to make her a more "perfect victim."

Random, Short Phone Interviews/Reactive Stories. These are not typically fact-checked and are produced full of errors.

Girl-Specific Branding Leaked with Agency Name. The girl was triggered at school and ended up running away for 2 weeks.

Rush Interview Cancelled Last Minute by Guardian. After cancelling, the reporter waited for the victim in a white, unmarked van in a parking lot and tried to push her to come with him to his station to do the story regardless of the guardian's cancellation.

TV Features Silhouetted, "Anonymous" Survivor. Survivor was labeled as a "prostitute" by the editor and 4 people recognized her body shape and voice.

Don't believe everything you read! Sandy presented a completely fictitious story that was printed with extremely graphic detail that was completely made up by the author and did not reflect the true story of the victim. She also presented two additional stories, one of a HT survivor that was saving girls, that turned out to not be a survivor of HT; the other was of a victim stating she was consensual to the trafficking and pornography however, a video surfaced of her being violently raped with information conflicting her claims of agreement to the trafficking.

Lastly, Sandy gave a list of 18 tips when working with the media:

Let a victim initiate the discussion on sharing their story.
Assure the victims emotional and physical stability.
Build insight/process trauma prior to interviews.
Leadership, peer mentoring, and training advised for victims
Control the Story.
Obtain proper consents (with as much detailed specifics as possible).
Conceal Identity (more than just a silhouettes).
Support person present.
Get questions in advance.
Ask to read quotes for accuracy.
Emphasize use of proper language with media.
Conduct due diligence with reporters (Find out the angle).
Train Reporters.
Pre-Brief, Debrief, and Debrief again.
Titrate exposure. Start small.
Engage survivors as experts, not "victims"
Compensate properly
Vet survivors. Why do they want to speak about their story?

Sandy also shared a very well-written expose from the Sarasota Herald called The Stolen Ones by reporter, David McSwain.

Sandy is currently a founder of the Ignition Project. A project designed to assist program directors that are forming new programs or newly formed agencies on developing business plans, strategic plans, and other essentials for success.

February's Meeting featured Guest Speaker Elaine Beckwith of Sanctuary Ranch, Vision Quest Shelter for Girls

There are 30,000 to 40,000 runaways in Florida alone. 2,200 to 2,300 go missing every day across US. Target age for traffickers has been 10 to 12 years old, but starting to recruit girls as young as 8 years old. Vulnerability factors: homelessness, poor, broken families, physical/sexual abuse history, running away history, low self-worth/self-esteem, addictions to drugs/alcohol, involvement in the juvenile justice  or child welfare system. Ages 12 to 14 years old are most vulnerable. 

Vision Quest works with underage minors girls only. They took their first girl into shelter in July 2014. 80% of girls run away from programs. They are used to running! That’s what they do! DJJ starting work with DCF – DJJ's history often means trafficking history. Most girls that receive services have DJJ history. Most girls are controlled by pimps – so they lie about it out of both loyalty and fear.

What is different about these girls? Their distrust of care providers and law enforcement. They lie out of fear, feel its their fault, and are ashamed. They don’t think anyone will believe them, they believe they're in love, they can't self-identify, and are controlled by the pimp. Very often these girls have issues with addictions. Violence is a symptom of trafficking. Trauma bonding takes a girl’s ability to walk away.

Brain process during trauma:
 - Trauma triggers “doing brain” in amygdala in limbic system over the “thinking brain” in prefrontal cortex

 - Thinking brain defers to doing brain in dangerous situations

 - Kids fight, flee or shut down – they learned to do these things in dangerous situations

 - Doing brain triggers hormones, either ramp up or calm person down
                determines fight/flight/freeze response

 - Designed to remember danger so can make a quick response

 - Triggers make us feel like we are in danger even when we are not
                sounds, smells, words, tones of voice, approaches, touch can all be triggers

 - Survivors compliance and behavior – coping mechanisms

The primary goals of Vision Quest are empowerment vs recovery,  growth, mastery, and efficacy. Generally they work collaboratively with other programs. They are funded through DCF, Child-net. Vision Quest is a private company. They extend into the home for next step for girls. They are fostered in families where there is only child per family allowable. The staff is all female. They have 4 cottages but no house parents. Each house has 6 staff – 2 on duty, 12 hour shifts, 3 days on, 4 off. Sanctuary House is faith based but not evangelistic – horses therapy, yoga, movie nights, education, and the girls are included in all the projects on the ranch including designing the decor for the houses.

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