Covering Sex Trafficking: The Irina Project

Two scholars at the UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication's Irina Project monitor media representations of sex trafficking, and advocate for responsible and accurate reporting on what has become the world's most common form of slavery, and its fastest-growing criminal enterprise.

As reported by Columbia Journalism Review, researchers Barbara Friedman and Anne Johnston are expanding the Irina Project with the hopes of helping journalists bring more nuance to their reporting. 

From 2008-2012, Friedman and Johnston monitored print, broadcast and online media and found that:

  • Just 16 percent of reporting on sex trafficking treated it as a human rights issue.
  • 45 percent of stories didn’t attempt to explain the deeper, underlying causes behind sex trafficking.
  • 41 percent of stories failed to mention possible solutions.
  • Terms such as “prostitute” and “hooker” were used more frequently than “victim” or “survivor.”
  • Journalists rarely include survivor perspectives.

Friedman and Johnston are expanding the Irina Project to include a website equipped with an online resource bank that will connect journalists with survivors and advocates.

Click here for more information about the project, and click here for Dart Center resources on covering sexual violence.