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Does using paid models change the ethics of poverty porn?

May 20, 2016

 

 

Some may have noticed a Twitter storm that began yesterday, “Is it ok to use paid models for poverty porn?” around one non-profit organisation's use of paid models to create a fundraising campaign. The images are striking - some have said appalling - but somehow the debate then shifted to whether or not the images amounted to exploitation so long as the children in the images were paid models. 

 

The campaign is another sad reminder that "poverty porn" or aid porn is alive and well, and that some people feel it is perfectly acceptable to use such images so long as it helps raise money. I first started writing about this issue for Child Safe Horizons www.childsafehorizons.com last year when the image of baby Alan was shown over and over on multiple media outlets. See “Aid Porn and the Current Refugee Crisis”. At that time, my question was around protecting the identity of vulnerable people, including children, as well as the sensationalism of such images. Just because they shock people or make them cry, should we be using them?

 

Non-profit fundraising and marketing individuals around the world have claimed over and over, for years, that the only way to get people to open their wallets is to show poor, starving, desperate people, usually children, as they tend to "tug at the heartstrings" even more. In recent years, however, the debate has begun to shift, and NGOs have been encouraged - in some cases, mandated - to stop using exploitative, sensationalist, and possibly damaging images.

 

Such images portray children as powerless, often isolated from their communities, and they over-simplify the complexity of global poverty. Rather than being portrayed as rights-holders, the children are shown as objects of pity, lacking in agency. When accompanied by labels such as “sex worker”, there is the question of whether this could lead to stigmatization of the child model, even if she has given consent. Is she old enough to understand the potential future implications? Many photos that are used by aid agencies are taken and used without proper consent, which is a danger to the child’s right to privacy and protection from being potentially identified and located by an abuser or trafficker, or the image being placed on an online abuse site.[1]

 

A recent investigation by the Australian Children’s eSafety Commission found tens of millions of photos of children doing everyday activities and posted on popular sites such as Facebook, Kik, and Instagram have been found by investigators looking into complaints about child abuse material online.  One such site was found to have at least 45 million images with around 50% sourced directly from social media[2].

 

 Non-profit advocacy and policy groups, such as the Australian Council for International Development, have a Code of Conduct which all members must adhere to. They include media and communications guidelines, stating in section C.1.3 on 'Portrayal of local people':

 

"Signatory organisations will ensure that the use of images and messages portraying women and men, boys and girls in their communications respects the dignity, values, history, religion and culture of the people portrayed. Obligation:

  1. Images and messages of women and men, boys and girls will present them in a dignified, respectful manner, portraying them as equal partners in the development process.   

  2. Images and messages will honestly portray the diversity of local people including age, disability and other marginalised groups.    

  3. Images and messages will honestly convey the context and complexity of the situations in which local people live."

 

While the debate will continue as to whether "poverty sells", Child Safe Horizons will continue to advocate for the ethical, dignified, and appropriate use of images. Aid porn and poverty may sell, but they do nothing to promote the dignity and rights of children. And many times, such images are exploitative - which certainly does nothing to promote the protection of children from all forms of abuse and exploitation. Even if the children in those images are paid models.

 

See also: CRIN Stop Aid Porn and "Aid Porn" and child protection in the current refugee crisis

 

[1] International Child Campaign Child Protection Policy in Relation to Campaigning and Website Images, https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/articles/Sharing-pictures-of-your-children/

 

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/national/millions-of-social-media-photos-found-on-child-exploitation-sharing-sites-20150929-gjxe55.html

 

 

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