Anti-trafficking campaign with movie star: Emma Thompson doing good

What are we to make of this photograph? Who is saying HELP ME? Is this a men’s toilet or a women’s? Is the victim hidden behind the wall? There’s something fundamentally wrong with the grammar of this warning. And then Emma Thompson – is she identifying with the person crying help? or perhaps a bit nonplussed, or distracted by the dirtiness of the sink.

Here Emma is on surer ground: the correct response is dismay and disapproval that sexual acts could be written on a list with prices next to them. Unless it’s the prices that bother her – or the amounts of time. Do the men beside the movie star not look slightly uncomfortable? Of course the menu-price list is a fit-up invented by some intern who didn’t know how these things work.

Emma with Mr Costa of UNODC. Is that an anti-trafficking mural painted on the wavy metal wall? It turns out to be part of a giant installation. The fake bathroom and price list must be inside.

The big letters on top spell JOURNEY.

Here’s that picture from the front. Now it’s clearer that the viewer is being asked Is this sexy to you? At least I think so. But who is meant to answer? And what if some viewers’ response is Yes, in fact, I find it sexy ? Awkward.

My point is not to claim that trafficking is a joke or efforts to stop it always ridiculous but to suggest that many attempts at campaigning (these included) are confusing, non-educational and belittling to real victims. Or is the whole exercise simply meant to demonstrate a set of values for people who already share them?

3 thoughts on “Anti-trafficking campaign with movie star: Emma Thompson doing good

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Anti-trafficking | Campaigns | Movie stars | Victims | Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex [] on

  2. Michael Goodyear

    Other questions

    And where is she? Is she supposed to be dressed as a Russian? Is that supposed to convey a picture of helpless Eastern European women trafficked to the flesh pots of the West? Isn’t the next director of UNDOC a Russian?

    And what do film-stars add to messages like this? They deal in illusions, so perhaps the message is that trafficking is an illusion? What film stars would appear in a pro-trafficking campaign? Or maybe more realistically – a Halt the Moral Panic campaign. (Helen Mirren, Billie Piper, Julia Roberts??)

    Was this ever focus tested?

    Many questions – few answers to this age old phenomenon.

  3. LH

    The containers are probably there to insinuate women get transported in bulk like lifeless commodities.

    It’s remarkable, though: several of the Eastern European prostitutes I have met, tend to take the airplane to go and see their families (often also comprising the kids they’re providing for) back home.

    From a Guardian article on the project (

    ‘Each container had been curated by a different artist, from artist Anish Kapoor to Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell. Visitors emerged white faced and shaken. Nearly 24 hours later, I could not get the image out of my head of the empty bedroom of a trafficked woman, trapped in prostitution: the dirty unmade bed, the bowls full of condoms, the used condoms half pushed under the bed, the price list daubed in felt tip on a board – oral sex, anal sex, £10 extra for kissing.’

    As a client I have never seen places like these (though never in England, granted)… And I wonder, would coerced sex be any less bad, if performed under beauty parlor conditions?


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