Friday 7 September 2018 Elena Krsmanovic (law department) defends her dissertation, titled Different alphabets, same story? Media Framing of Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation in British, Dutch and Serbian Media.
The issue of trafficking in human beings is complex and there is a number of ongoing debates in the field that continue to divide scholars, policy makers and activists involved in anti-trafficking. Giving voice to advocates of different perspectives, the media has been seen as a facilitator of these debates. This essential function, however, gives the media great power to influence the debate and set the agenda by choosing what to report on and how. Further, media framing of human trafficking shapes public opinion, trafficking-related policy, and, consequently, the environment in which victims exercise their rights and recover. As scholars have neglected scrutinising media portrayal of human trafficking, this research aims to bridge that knowledge gap by analysing the way media frame trafficking for sexual exploitation in British, Dutch and Serbian media. Through a mixed-methods approach, the study of Krsmanovic explores three layers of the framing process: the media product, its producers and its effects.
Results of her study have shown that trafficking is mainly framed as a criminal justice issue in all three countries. A significant portion of the mediated reports framed trafficking as a prostitution-related phenomenon, while migration, violence, and human rights aspects of the crime were less frequently emphasized. As a consequence, the focus of the public debate on human trafficking remained on prosecuting traffickers, suppressing crime, eradicating prostitution, and controlling migration. Issues pertaining to victims’ rights and protection were consequently marginalised. The study concludes that making criminal justice and prostitution-related aspects of human trafficking more salient than others testifies of societal and state anxieties over borders, race and ethnicity, gender and morality. The motifs that representation of trafficking banks on are deeply embedded in the culture, which makes employed frames all the more convincing. It is precisely those frames that rely on the principal values and moralities within a society (e.g. freedom, nationalism, rule of law, and male dominance) that are particularly popular and influential in shaping the public perception of human trafficking through the media. In addition, the proportionality between the volume of coverage and the political will to tackle human trafficking was evident in all three countries. Finally, this study has shown the importance of considering specifics of the political, economic, and social conditions that the media operate in. Differences between the countries observed seem to suggest that changes leading towards a better quality of reporting could only be anticipated in circumstances that involve a high degree of media autonomy, safe and fair work conditions for journalists, and close collaboration with the anti-trafficking community that is ready to work with the media towards communicating human trafficking contents better.