A Follow Up: Ads and PSAs in the Human Trafficking Abolition Community

In comparison to the Montana Meth Project ad campaign discussed here yesterday, anti-trafficking groups have tried similar ad campaigns before to raise public awareness, but never anything so graphic or compelling as the Montana Meth Project’s campaign, perhaps until now (see more below under Recent Developments). Past efforts have been sporadic and limited in reach. For example, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking initiated a print ad campaign focusing on child sex trafficking with images of strip clubs and very young girls in neon lights. Check it out here. Another coalition worked in Seattle to initiate a bus ad campaign, focusing on ending demand for commercial sex and thus thwarting sex trafficking.

In 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in a public awareness campaign entitled Hidden in Plain Sight with its own series of advertisements. You can read the press release here and watch some of the PSAs online. While the Florida and ICE campaigns focused on raising general public awareness of the issue of human trafficking to encourage more reporting and tips, the Seattle campaign targeted consumers of commercial sex to end demand.

This 45-second video clip was funded by the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and developed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. It aimed to raise awareness about modern-day slavery, particularly in the U.S., but with less than 2,000 views on YouTube seems to have had limited impact.

Similarly, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, of which Polaris Project is a member, launched a PSA campaign in Times Square this year.

With simple text in two 15-second video clips displayed across screens on the streets of New York City, the ATEST PSAs’ main tool was a URL address devoted to the campaign, slaverylives.org (which points back to the ATEST main page). The campaign was primarily oriented toward broad awareness-raising, and extended from January to April 2011 on the CBS Super Screen at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Unlike the Meth Project Campaign or any of the other human trafficking campaigns identified above, the ATEST PSAs did not involve any images, graphic or otherwise.

Recent Developments

On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, launched a new human trafficking ad campaign with two eerie and unsettling video PSAs and a print component. These ads are a part of the Blue Campaign and comprise a counterpart to ads that have been widespread in Mexico and throughout Central America, encouraging people not to be fooled into slavery.

Beginning on July 25, the ads will be broadcast in key media markets where trafficking is prevalent, and in particular where Hispanic labor trade is growing: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and the Washington, D.C. metro area. Each ad concludes with our National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number (1-888-3737-888).


While the first video ad has clear implications for labor trafficking, with immigrants being smuggled into the country, having their legal paperwork confiscated, and being forced to work in a factory with exploitative and demeaning conditions, the second ad deals with a sensitive topic through metaphor and imagery.


Although the girl in the ad is clearly in an exploitative situation, in fact literally confined in a cage, the type of work she is performing is left to the imagination. She is repeatedly told to sing, forced into doing so, and at the video’s conclusion the voiceover explains, “The little girl lost her wings.” This serves as a couched euphemism for sex trafficking, with minors being groomed (like with the lipstick slathered onto her lips at 00:34), forced into commercial sex, and losing a sense of self or more (innocence, virginity, freedom) in the process.

Part of the reason the Meth Project seems to have been so successful is because it has a clear, impressionable target audience: Montana teenagers. In contrast, who should be targeted to end human trafficking? Certain communities? Certain states? Should ads focus on deterring buying commercial sex? What about other types of trafficking–domestic servitude, massage parlors, agricultural labor trafficking, traveling sales crews? Do the new CBP ads address this variety in human trafficking scenarios?

Leave us your thoughts and reactions in the comments! Also, please let us know when you start seeing the CBP TV spots in your community.

1 comment to A Follow Up: Ads and PSAs in the Human Trafficking Abolition Community

  • SoyAmado

    This is great! There must be warnings to these vulnerable people who are being deceived by the ‘brokers’ to take them to ‘freedom’ but end up in dire circumstances! Thank you for all your efforts!
    I want desperate women toknow THERE IS HOPE! where ever they are:http://stephaniesprayercorner.blogspot.com/