When a Picture Means More…

By Wendy J Olson

If you’re anything like me, you think social media is exhausting…and also you have to have it.

Maybe you love it. That’s ok. We’ll allow it.

I’ve met some really great people on social media, and I’ve witnessed the worst of humankind. So one thing that is important to be in working with human trafficking survivors is the ethics behind what we post.

Typically anti-trafficking orgs have in the past posted what is now coined as “trauma porn,” which is when the gross and grotesque of the world are put on display for our consumption and for clicks.

I am adamant about a few things, and this is one of them: when working with victims of exploitation in any form, I will not re-exploit them by putting their names and faces out there like trophies.

We had a discussion about this month’s social media photos and here’s what we discussed: the issue of using stock photography for human trafficking awareness memes. As a former photographer, I have opinions on stock photography that might be different from others. First, I know that stock photographers are paid a lot of money to make pictures. I also know that “models” are given a waiver to sign as a part of their contract to waive any rights to the determination of the use of their photo. (That being said, as a model you should be aware of where your photo can and cannot be used, despite the paycheck attached to the project.)

While some organizations might use images of human trafficking survivors, our media will not. One, I believe people should be paid for the work they do, and two, I believe that victims of human trafficking have been through enough and re-exploitation should not be something else they have to survive.

So when you see our social media or any campaign for that matter, know that the images we use are not necessarily people that have come out of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. They are simply people. Human beings. They are people just like you and me. They make look different from you, talk differently from you, and live in different places, but they all have red blood flowing through their veins. They are all beautiful, amazing, cut from a similar cloth human beings that deserve love and respect with zero strings attached.

It is my intention with the photos not to have people assume these are survivors. I want people to see human beings and have compassion for humans, never knowing the struggle no one else sees. The close, intimate portrait should make people feel something if nothing else at least that we are all human and deserve love, kindness, and respect.

None of those things should be earned. They should be given freely.

And maybe, just maybe, my little idealistic hope is that we can see one another better, love one another no matter what, and create a better world than the one we were born into. 

I have zero interest in clicks. I have zero interest in likes. I’m in the heart and healing business. I want to see healing brought into the world through the changing of hearts and hopefully, eventually minds so that we can irradiate the world of these injustices that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Sure, that’s a tall order. But my little idealistic heart still believes in magic. The magic of people coming together against an evil that has existed for far too long. We are not operating in a world where everyone is free. 

And yet. Everyone deserves to be free.

Wendy J Olson is the Founder and Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption Farmstead, a 501c3 nonprofit. She also works as a healing coach, facilitating the Allender Center modality of Story Work, (Narrative Focused Trauma Care. ) She walks with women through their stories of past hurts and traumas, guiding them to freedom and healing.

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