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?