Reporting on Trafficking: Trafficking investigation experience sharing

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Journalists can help to combat human trafficking through several important means. Most importantly they can investigate stories and report honestly on cases, even when they have to challenge mainstream norms. 

Newsrooms can also collaborate across borders to identify networks, and share information to help fill in some of the gaps in institution data in the region. 

They can also share their experiences: investigating trafficking is hard. It can be dangerous, but it can also be emotionally traumatising to follow cases that often involve physical abuse, or worse. 

In this lesson we will hear from Mosidi Mokaeya of the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism in Botswana, who has been investigating a grisly series of murders. 

Challenging beliefs

Mokaeya is investigating cases of ritual killings, linking cases of missing persons to murders for the purposes of selling body parts to traditional doctors.

One of the challenges, she says, is that the police don’t associate disappearances with human trafficking. The issue is under-reported because there is no specific crime for human trafficking, and the specialist desk set up in the justice ministry to compile data on trafficking is still dealing with cases from 2014, the year in which it was established.

As a result, Botswana failed to contribute to the 2018 and 2019 reporting periods for the the TIP report (discussed in an earlier lesson) and policy is failing to deal with endemic issues.

“In this region, people just go missing,” Mokaeya says, “Especially if they are from a minority group like the San. They are forgotten about, and there’s no resources to get justice. They’re just another missing person.”

Connecting with communities

Mokaeya says that many families have come forward to help with her investigation because they want their stories to be told. 

they have been so rejected by the police system, searches happen for two days – then abandoned

“We make them feel the value of telling their stories,” she says, “We don’t promise to do the policing – but we let them know that their stories will be heard.”

Mokaeya has been using INK’s Facebook page to find the families of suspected victims.

“People were bursting, they had been wanting to talk about their problems but had no voice. They had been so rejected by the system.”


The cultural issues

Where traditional beliefs area a cause of human trafficking, investigations can be difficult. Not only because of the need to be sensitive of belief systems, but also because those who practice those beliefs may obstruct your work. 

Mokaeya says that she believes police officers in some areas are very keen to talk about difficult issues such as gender-based violence and crime, and help journalists, but are less willing to talk about ritual killings. 

“The crime is rooted in local beliefs, they genuinely believe they can benefit from these medicines.”

In addition, Mokaeya adds, often people don’t want to believe that trafficking crimes are happening on their doorstep. “It doesn’t have to be a crime of distance, although that’s what it is largely imagined to be”.

There are other trafficking crimes in Botswana that meet similar challenges from a cultural point of view, she adds. In particular, child marriages are still common and not challenged often enough.

Emotionally hard

For reporters, perhaps the best advice Mokaeya has is to understand that reporting on these issues is hard. “No-one warned me that I would relive the story while it is being told by a family member,” she says, “It can be very traumatic.”

Make sure your newsroom is aware of what you are doing, and has resources to correctly support you.

Let’s recap