External Event: Representation of Human Trafficking in the News, True Crime and Fiction
Our colleagues at the University of Leeds are currently engaged in a project investigating factual and fictional representations of transnational human trafficking. The aim is to assess the extent to which such representations are aligned with, and shape public knowledge and understanding of this crime.
The project brings together linguists, criminologists and literary critics, in partnership with specialist policing consultant Bernie Gravett, who acts as a non-academic partner. All are engaged in investigating the ways in which human trafficking has been portrayed – for example in British and Serbian media since 2000; in a range of English, Irish and Danish crime novels; and in the 2011 seven-part Al Jazeera documentary series Slavery: A 21st Century Evil.
With specific reference to UK news media, the project analyses coverage of human trafficking since 2000, sometimes conflated with issues relating to immigration and the EU, such as the migration crisis and the UK referendum on membership.
To date, academics have analysed how coverage:
- stereotypes human trafficking victims, creating a problematic victim hierarchy
- focuses on the foreignness of victims and traffickers, suggesting that human trafficking is an imported problem
- problematically conflates trafficking (a crime against the individual) with smuggling (a crime against the state), and also (illegal) immigration and asylum seeking, thus failing to follow legal definitions of these terms. Such conflation also suggests that all economic migration/movement into the UK is highly problematic and unwanted.
Among the project’s recommendations are that there needs to be a much more reflective and genuinely representative view from government and policymakers when it comes to what and how they communicate to the public on the subject of human trafficking. It also argues there is a need for a greater understanding of the complexity of human traffickers and the operations they form part of (local and global): many are victims as well as perpetrators.
To discuss this topics further, a symposium will be held in Leeds’ Carriageworks (http://leedsvenues.org.uk/venues/the-carriageworks/) on 12 September 2017, attended by specialists in human trafficking – including creative writers and filmmakers, media representatives and police officers.
The conference aims to:
- showcase the project’s results (with findings from research undertaken by Drs Christiana Gregoriou, Ilse Ras, Charlotte Beyer, Nina Muzdeka and Melissa Dearey)
- engage participants in discussion about the relevance of the research findings to their respective fields
- generate a policy brief with recommendations specifically designed for four groups: creative writers and filmmakers; police officers; news media representatives and educationalists.
Further to the project researchers, speakers will include:
- Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire and Chair of the National Anti-Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Network
- Crime fiction writer Matt Johnson
- Journalist/writer/film-maker Paul Kenyon
- Academic/writer/Free the Slaves co-founder Professor Kevin Bales
Organisers are keen to hear from policy makers and practitioners interested in attending and contributing.
The project’s principal investigator is Dr Christiana Gregoriou, Associate Professor in English Language at the University of Leeds.
The symposium registration form is accessible here: https://n8prp.org.uk/event/symposium-representation-transnational-human-trafficking/, and the registration deadline is August 11th 2017.