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Media reporters' sensitization on sex work issues II

In the previous issue of the SWAN Advocacy School we talked about things to do in the preparatory phase of media sensitization seminars. In this edition, we are talking about the seminar delivery and follow up.

Media play an important role in educating and sensitizing society to human rights of sex workers. They can be both an engine of change and a force behind perpetuated prejudices.

In order to help the media understand the issues surrounding sex work, SWAN developed in 2008 curricula for media sensitization seminars and organized several events in six countries. 

Below is one possible format of sensitization seminars. We are providing it only as an example and as starting point for you in preparing something that fits your country and context, your organization and media in your community and country.

Seminar Delivery
This 15-minutes section consists of seminar participants’ and facilitators’ introductions, setting up of basic rules and the presentations of seminar objectives an agenda.

Although it has been emphasized in the first contact with media and reporters, it should be once again repeated that the seminar is NOT a press conference or press briefing, that NO STORY is expected to be reported about the seminar and that no cameras or microphones are allowed at the seminar.

Seminar objectives
It is very important to set up clear objectives of the seminar and to communicate them in time and clearly, so that there is a shared understanding of what the outcome of the seminar should be. The objectives of the SWAN seminars were:

  1. Introduce media reporters and editors to issues surrounding basic human rights of sex workers, health and ethical media reporting issues and most common myths surrounding sex work;
  2. Assist media reporters and editors in recognizing where a good story is, which is in the same time newsworthy and respectful to sex workers’ human rights and personal integrity;
  3. Introduce media reporters and editors to additional sources which can be consulted when reporting on sex work;
  4. Start a long-term partnership between your organization and media reporters covering sex work;

The Seminar
The main body of the seminar is broken into four parts. One way to break the ice at the beginning is with a quiz. Distribute cards with questions related to sex work to each participant and have them try to answer. Vary questions from serious to funny and light. Examples can include: Name a famous sex worker from history. Name 5 types of sex work. Name the law used most often to arrest sex workers in our city. You can give the answers right away or as they come up in the next sections.

1. Naming
In this 45-minutes session basic definitions of issues pertaining to sex work are explained along with a broad overview of what sex work is. This section explains the diversity within sex work, in terms of gender, settings and conditions. You will use the Sex Work in Our Country backgrounder for that.

To keep things lively, you can ask the participants to try and volunteer answers for specific sections (e.g. ask them to list names or words for sex workers and talk about whether these are negative, neutral or positive, whether they are mocking or serious). Ask them to list contexts in which the word “prostitute” is used (ie for lying or hypocritical politicians, for sex workers, for people with “low moral standards”, etc.). Ask them to reflect on how some of these terms can set a particular tone in an article. Involving them in the exercises also helps them to draw their own conclusions.

Explain in very simple terms how the laws affect sex workers step-by-step. Don’t forget that we often don’t mention things we take for granted that other people know. For example, how even just fearing arrest or the police has an impact on work and life.

Here are two great strategies for explaining how laws and policies affect sex workers:

a) Comparisons: e.g. In Macedonia, the fine for having sex in public (public indecency) is 40 Euros yet for the same activity, sex workers receive a fine of 600 to 800 Euros.

b) Hypothetical Examples From Sex Workers’ View Point: e.g. “So, what this law means for the sex worker is this: Let’s say you are working on the street, one out of every two nights a police officer will come and take away your condoms and once a night he will take your money. If you have no money or no condoms, it can affect you this and this way…”

Explaining the different laws and policies that affect sex workers (migration, violence, etc.) is also a great way of highlighting the diversity of sex workers. For example, if laws against rape don’t recognize sexual assault against men, this impacts on male sex workers who may be more likely to be targeted with violence than other men and on trans sex workers who are not recognized as women.

Throughout the presentation, it is important to talk about sex work in all its diversity. Particularly, if your NGO only deals with a segment of sex workers (i.e. female sex workers, street sex workers, injection drug-using sex workers), it is important to remember to make people aware of the issues facing all different kinds of sex workers.

2. Myths and realities about sex work

In this 1,5 hour-long session. Through interactive exercises you will address basic myths and realities about sex work and highlight the stereotypes to avoid. Some time will be spent deconstructing myths and reframing issues such as sex work and HIV, sex work and drug use, sex work and trafficking. You can use the Reframing Sex Work Issues in the Media backgrounder for that.

If one of these issues is not relevant in your country, then skip it. If there is another recurrent myth in your local media that you wish to address, by all means do. It is important to remember that we are not telling journalists what to write, but we are encouraging them to investigate complex realities using reliable sources, to question sensational statistics or generalizations and to look at things in their broader context.

Useful pointers for helping to reframe each myth are:

1. Questioning generalizations: Encourage journalists to look to reliable sources, to question materials by groups with an explicitly anti-sex work bias, and to “go to the source” and ask sex workers themselves how they are affected – or not- by such issues. Discourage them from using unsourced and unfounded numbers. An example of the type of such numbers to avoid was the widely published claim that 40 000 women would be trafficked for the World Cup in Germany that was soon after completely discredited.

2. What is the broader context? For example with HIV, how do working conditions and the law affect sex workers ability to protect their own health? For drugs, is the situation with drugs the same across all parts of the industry?

3. Is sex work being talked about differently? For example, when reporting on sex workers’ work place risk of HIV, how is coverage different than when talking about nurses and doctors’ work place risk of HIV. For example, when talking about trafficking in the sex trade, how is coverage different than when talking about trafficking in the construction or agricultural industries.

This section will probably be less interactive and you will take on much more of a teaching role. Do not hesitate to do so: you have expertise and journalists are coming because they want to learn about the issues. It is helpful to them for you to transfer your knowledge. Allow question periods after each issue and address what you feel confident and comfortable answering. If they ask questions that are slightly off-topic, for example on legal frameworks, if you feel comfortable responding do, if not refer them to links, definitions in the hand-outs or reliable sources for them to follow up on.

After having reframed the issues, brainstorm with them possible story angles from the new frames for seeing the issues. Feel free to jump in and make suggestions and contribute to the list of story angles. Some of these potential leads are listed on the Framing hand-out; others will be in your notes from our brainstorm in Belgrade.

3. Ethical issues in reporting sex work

This 45-minutes long session is devoted to basic definitions of professional reporting applied on sex work issues. In a brief brainstorm, in which you ask the reporters to give you elements of professional reporting, those elements of professional/ethical reporting are listed and written on a flipchart.

Each participant then takes one element and in 5-10 minutes lists ways it applies to sex work. Those are then reported and discussed in plenary. Seminar facilitators are encouraged to provide local or network examples of how some ethical breach can play out in articles addressing sex work and what the ramifications can be for sex workers.

4. Where is the story?

The seminar ends with an interactive discussion in which you will go back to recapping some of the ideal story angles you thought of in the second session of the seminar.

Together with participants you will come up with a list of on-going or punctual stories and issues that media could cover.

Discuss the ways that reporters think you and your organization and sex workers could help them in preparing those stories. Where are the sources, statistics?
You can also discuss how reporters can pitch these stories to editors. At the end of the seminar ask the participants to fill out the evaluation form and end on a positive note by highlighting that the seminar is the beginning of a partnership.

Staying in touch
Ask the participants if they would like to receive information from you about events that your organization organizes, about materials produced or research studies (You can tell them there is one coming up very soon).

Offer them to call you when they need assistance in a developing story. Ask them to let you know once they publish a story on sex work and to send you a hard copy or fax with the story.

Ask them to leave their name cards. After the seminar is finished, send them individual thank-you notes. Include their names and data into your press list.
And then keep in touch. But be careful not to overdo it!

Analyze carefully the participants’ feedback provided in the evaluation forms and through your later communication with them. Were they satisfied or not? What was the most important added value for them? Could you detect change in their coverage of sex work after the seminar?

Collect impressions and try to develop lessons learned for the future seminars. You will also need this feedback for your project report to the donor.

This seminar is a pilot project funded by the Open Society Institute-New York. If successful, it will be replicated in 2009 and beyond. However, you are encouraged to look for other donors and possible partners and replicate the seminar yourself.

You might be proactive and post a short seminar description on your website and ask interested media organizations or donors to contact you so you can organize inhouse seminars (for example for the biggest newspaper in your country, or for a main commercial TV, or for an Office of Ombudsman, etc). You might even charge consultant fee for organizing such on-demand seminars, but it is up to you to estimate if it is a common practice in your country or not.

Congratulations! You are ready for your first sensitization seminar!

Please tell us any tips on things that worked really well as well as things that didn’t work so that other SWAN members can learn from your lessons.
Don’t forget that even if you do not see the immediate results, sensitization seminars are a terrific investment in better media coverage in the future.

We wish you good luck!