“Stories have the power to show someone a mirror-image of their best self. To encourage people to hold on when going through difficult times. And to inspire others to act. Stories change our world.”
In a media climate that demands organizations, companies, and brands compete for attention, empowered storytelling that is not sensationalized can seem counterintuitive and in many ways, boring for viewers. When struggling to be heard amongst the clutter on the internet, it can seem necessary to post media that will shock people, even at the expense of the survivor. Despite good intentions, this method of storytelling can have real, detrimental effects on survivors, local communities, and our collective vision of preserving dignity.
“With dignity” is a phrase and a practice we at Chab Dai strive to fashion our media policy and online presence after. We believe that every person deserves the right to choose if and how their story is told, just as much as they deserve to live a life free of exploitation. We will not diminish what someone has been through, but their trauma is not their identity. It can be easy to see people as victims and pity them. In reality, those who have experienced trauma and come out the other side are not just victims, they are survivors. Let's not think: "That's so sad," but rather, "They're so strong."
Unfortunately, pity-centered advertising in media is a tried-and-true method for garnering a reaction, and often successful at increasing donations and funding. Showing the bodies of malnourished children, crying women chained to bed, people shackled in chains with haunted eyes, these images are splashed across our screens on the daily. With captions like: “This child was sold into slavery” and “she was trafficked for sex” these campaigns are specifically designed to trigger feelings of sadness and guilt in order to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. The goal may be to spread awareness and to raise donations for good work, but at what cost?
When someone’s decision-power has been taken from them, and when they have been cast in the role of victim by their abuser, they need to be empowered, not simply rescued. It is our duty to ensure that this image is broken, both personally within their lives, and within the eyes of the public. When we plaster the faces of survivors across the screen, we don’t just add to the problem, we become the problem. We exploit them in our own right.
We must all commit to moving past the idea of “saving victims” and begin enacting a partnership and empowerment-centric model. Ultimately, it is a decision to stop profiting from someone else’s trauma or misusing their narrative to bolster marketing campaigns.
This pity-centered message is not the one Chab Dai wants to send. We are here to support and empower survivors who are ready to choose how their stories are shared. Whatever their choice, we hope to see survivors rise up and speak out about their ongoing journey as they continue to be a part of the empowered storytelling movement.
“How can I become an advocate for ethical storytelling?”
Commit. Ethical storytelling is about preserving dignity and fostering empowerment, and our partners at Freedom Story started an initiative to facilitate discussions around sharing stories and the controversies around this. Sign the pledge to be an ethical storyteller today at http://ethicalstorytelling.com/pledge/.
Watch. Pay close attention to the organizations you follow and support as they share photos and videos.
Choose. If a photo or video does not promote dignity, do not repost it or share it on social media.
Contact. Contact the organizations you follow and support to keep them accountable when you see something that does not promote dignity.