Posts Tagged ‘ECPAT International’

Avoiding the perils of firsthand victim stories

September 12, 2011

This fall, I’ll be part of a workshop for advocacy and service groups at ECPAT International’s general assembly in Paris. ECPAT is a global network of more than 81 groups in 75 countries that work on the issue of child sexual exploitation. I’ve been asked to offer suggestions about how to engage adults to tell their stories about sexual exploitation in their childhood or youth. Getting former victims to share their stories publicly can be hugely effective in terms of generating media attention, public awareness and action. It’s not risk-free though, for the organization or the former victims.

As a child welfare social worker turned PR professional, I have approached the prospect of using firsthand stories from two perspectives. My public relations work involves helping organizations get their stories told in a way that is compelling. I know the best way to do this is through firsthand stories.

As a social worker who has worked with children and families who have lived through sexual abuse, I realize that going public with this kind of victimization is a huge step and one that needs to be considered very carefully.

There are a number of potential pitfalls for both sides—the former victim and the advocacy or direct service organization. There are some measures organizations should take to increase the likelihood of a successful collaboration with former victims.

  1. Find stable participants – Those willing to come forward don’t always have the necessary emotional stability and grounded perspective on their past experience. That can cause problems for both the participant and the organization. Connect with a support group facilitator or therapeutic helper to find participants who have achieved the stability necessary to go public.
  2. Screen for ability – Not everyone is suited to tell his/her story in public, whether that be through a media interview, speaking at a conference or in a video. The participant needs to have the confidence to take center stage, to speak clearly and tell his/her story in a way that is compelling. Once you have a roster of potential participants, interview them yourself and determine if they have what it takes. Some coaching may be required.
  3. Do perspectives align? – Organizations working with abuse victims or advocating on their behalf usually have a specific position on the causes of the problem and how, as a society, we should deal with it. Be prepared that the participant you are considering may not share those views. Even if you’re not asking them to comment in public on their views, the topic could come up, especially during media interviews.  Ask the potential participant about your organization’s perspective, ask them for their thoughts. Determine if there is a match or in the case of differences, whether you can live with them.
  4. Be transparent – The potential participant must be fully aware of the expectations and purpose of his/her participation. This is important not only from an ethical point of view but also to avoid having the participants back out when they discover they are not comfortable with what’s being asked of them. A contract is a good idea because it forces you to spell out exactly what’s involved and protects both your organization and the participant.
  5. Be realistic – If you’re asking the former victim to tell his/her story to the media, know that ultimately you have no control over how that story is going to be told. The participant needs to be aware of this. You can try to guide the journalist involved in terms of preferred language to use (e.g. “child sexual exploitation” rather than “child prostitute”) but there are no guarantees.
  6. Be prepared if things go wrong – Think of the risks involved ahead of time. What will you do if the media coverage is not what you or the participant expected? What if upon telling or viewing the story, the participant experiences post-trauma? Think it through and have a plan.
  7. Don’t forget legal considerations – In addition to having a contract, consider having a legal representative review the firsthand stories before you use them. If the participant is identifying his/her abuser, even in an indirect way, make sure there won’t be any legal repercussions. Fact check convictions, sentencing or court procedures the participant refers to for accuracy.

Has your organization used the stories of former victims in its advocacy work? Please share what steps you’ve taken to ensure success by leaving a comment.

Related post: Media promotion for non-profits doing sensitive work

Getting Twitter buy-in at your nonprofit

August 4, 2009
TBS campaign photo

From Twitter: "Placards very vibrant. Can see them well from the street."

Last week, I “live tweeted” an event for a client. It was a first for me but something I had wanted to try for quite awhile. Twitter is a new communication platform for this client and tweeting an event was a great way to introduce them to it.

Beyond Borders is a volunteer-driven, national NGO speaking out globally on the issue of child sexual exploitation. The organization is part of a network of NGOs affiliated with ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

Beauty retailer The Body Shop, has joined forces with ECPAT and the Somaly Mam Foundation to engage in a three-year campaign to stop sex trafficking of children and youth. Part of the campaign involves the launch of a new hand cream with a portion of sales going to ECPAT affiliates.

For Beyond Borders, this campaign will not only generate a new source of funds to carry out projects  benefiting victims of exploitation, it will also bring the organization unprecedented attention. As the result, Beyond Borders decided to invest in an entirely revamped website that was easy to navigate and that also incorporated social media (including Twitter) to further engage the community at large.

For most of the organization’s board members and volunteers, Twitter was an unfamiliar platform. Sure, most were aware of the hype around Twitter but they were unsure about how it works and how the organization could use it.

I made the case that Twitter would be a great way to connect with related NGOs as well as other stakeholders. It would also provide Beyond Borders volunteers (who span the country) with a quick and easy way to stay abreast of the organization’s news and activities.

Getting Twitter buy-in

With the majority of volunteers not using Twitter, the first order of business was to introduce the platform to them and to cultivate openness to using it. That was part of the rationale for putting a Twitter stream right on the website. Providing a “window” to recent posts on Twitter within a platform comfortable to everyone (the organization’s website) we were one step away from having them click on the link taking them directly to the Twitter profile.

The next challenge will be to post information that will be relevant to the Beyond Borders community. The launch of The Body Shop’s campaign was a perfect place to start.

Event tweeting increased motivation to use Twitter

As part of the launch of the campaign, the retailer hosted a rally in Toronto to provide information to that region’s staff members as well as to interested media. I attended the launch and agreed to “live tweet” the event. For Beyond Borders members unable to travel to Toronto for the launch, Twitter would be the next best thing to being there.

Using an iPhone and the Twitterrific application that allows you to tweet using a mobile device, I was able to upload several photo links and provide a running commentary of the event. By going to the Beyond Borders Twitter profile or its website, visitors could see images and read updates in real time.

The importance of this event to Beyond Borders as well as the novelty of being able to hear about it in real time was a great way to motivate people to try the platform. Volunteers who followed along gave the experience a positive review.

Many nonprofits/NGOs are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. It’s important, though, to do some thoughtful planning about how the organization will use the platform and to make sure that it is integrated with the organization’s larger communication plan. Creating a Twitter profile and posting updates to it does not mean everyone, including your volunteers/staff, will embrace it. As with other communication tools, the content has to be easy to absorb, relevant and useful. Overcoming the barriers to adopting this new tool also needs to be part of the plan.

Has your organization recently adopted Twitter or another social media tool? I’d love to hear about your success and challenges.