On Avoiding Sensationalism

As I have gotten further into this issue, I have gotten a better sense of what I should and should not do.

It is not likely that I will bust a trafficking ring, bring anyone to justice, uncover secret brothels, or get interviews with current victims of sexual exploitation. I have been speaking with people in law enforcement and philanthropy groups and these will be the central characters of my pieces. Some part of me think that this approach is too far from the heart of the matter to be of any interest or value. I do not yet know.

I have been interning at ABC News five days a week. I have spoken to several journalists there about the issue of human trafficking in New York. I hear this universal refrain: “Have you read the NY Times piece from a couple of years ago?” and, “How do you plan to go further?” This line of questioning suggests that everything important has already been said, and very recently. This might have been true a few months ago, but over the summer a new law was passed that gives the police and the courts in New York State greater power to crack down on trafficking. The exploits and efforts of the law enforcement is where my story is headed.

The infamous NY Times article is definitive in one important respect: it sets the bars for shocking treatment of this issue, at least within the past several years. The author, Peter Landesman, spent four months traveling to and from Mexico and Eastern Europe searching for sex-slavery traffickers, recruiters, and victims. Among the more lurid anecdotes is when Landesman recounts how a child of 7 was raped by an older American man who would read to her from the Bible before and after intercourse. What is most shocking about stories like this one is not simply that they are true but that they are presented as commonplace in the world of sexual servitude. There is no topping Landesman in this respect, and I don’t intend to try. He actually relieves me of the burden of harping on horrifying details. As my ABC friends imply – It has been done. I’m free to focus on what is being done about it.

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