With the support of others, Rachel Goble started the Sold Project, which was renamed The Freedom Story, in order to raise awareness for human trafficking and prevention efforts.
The story that is told about human trafficking is very powerful. If the story does not represent the true struggles of the victims of human trafficking, it can be very detrimental to anti-human trafficking efforts, as well as prevention and funding.
The Sold Project began with a documentary about the vulnerabilities to sex trafficking of children in Thailand.
Sadly, there is a common story among people who have been subjected to human trafficking and helped by an organization. They tell their story to help that organization the way they were helped. However, when that survivor begins on the path to healing, oftentimes they don’t want their story to be available on the internet anymore. They don’t want to be known for what happened to them.
The theory of change has created a standard that The Freedom Story organization uses to help track prevention efforts.
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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number 243, Ethical Storytelling in Prevention.
Production Credits [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.
Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.
Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.
Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking, Sandie. I’m so glad we get to have another conversation today about the importance of prevention, and I’m so glad to welcome to the show today Rachel Goble. Rachel grew up in an interconnected and multicultural world, whether traveling to Central America with her family to survey land for the founding of a nonprofit or trudging through the Sierra Nevada’s as her parents sought to awaken Christians to our role as creation’s caretakers, Rachel learned early that the world’s peoples and problems are connected and that we must all help in overcoming them. Rachel co-founded the Freedom Story to prevent child trafficking in northern Thailand through education, resources, and mentorship. After developing close relationships with the children, the Freedom Story serves, Rachael founded Ethical Storytelling, a community of nonprofit practitioners and storytellers learning how to integrate a new standard of storytelling. Today, Rachel serves as the CEO of the Freedom Story and executive director of the Global Family Foundation. Rachel, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.
Rachel [00:01:47] Thank you so much for having me.
Sandie [00:01:49] Rachel and I were kind of reminiscing about when we first met, and it’s been a very, very long time since we’ve seen each other. But I’ve watched you from afar, and I would love for our listeners to learn a little bit about how you started in this and the Sold Project and how it morphed into what you’re doing now.
Rachel [00:02:12] Sure, yes. I think the last time we saw each other was probably in 2007 when I was a student at Fuller Seminary in L.A., and I believe our paths crossed there at an anti-trafficking seminar. And so, when I was a student, it was the early 2000’s and I had just learned about human trafficking. And given that I had grown up so connected to the nonprofit world, I think, like many people, was surprised that this is happening in our world and wanted to do something about it and so was able to dedicate a lot of my studies to trafficking research. And that brought me their work in Los Angeles and through India, South Africa. And all along that journey, I kept hearing this narrative of the need of prevention and the lack of resources that were available for prevention work, whether that was financial resources or just staff capacity. And so, I came home from that trip with a really clear understanding that I wanted to raise awareness about the need for prevention and the anti-trafficking space, and then was able to meet a couple of other individuals, one of whom was a Thai national, and had a similar vision for his village. And so, we put our minds together and our hearts together and thus was born what was then the Sold Project and today has been rebranded to the freedom story.
Sandie [00:03:41] Wow. OK, so tell us then let’s jump right into our favorite subject because everybody knows prevention is number one for me. And let’s talk about the link between ethical storytelling and prevention, early intervention, and even survivor care. One of the things we talked about in recent episodes is the ethics of telling the story. And we have a lot of survivor input into what they want to hear about their stories. They don’t want it commodified. They don’t want to be literally resold to raise money. And your work and your experience of how those stories impact prevention, early intervention, and survivor care really do bring some new light to this. So, talk to us about that.
Rachel [00:04:33] Oh, gosh, there’s so much to unpack there, and so I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. So ethical storytelling was born out of a desire to see nonprofit organizations further their mission and the stories and marketing pieces that they were putting out to solicit donors. I was seeing examples over and over again of the opposite of that. So, the storytelling, the marketing, the blog post, the videos that were being put out into the world, which really, I think are the stories that educate about the cause. They’re the stories that educate about what’s actually happening in anti-trafficking. That’s what donors that’s what people that are passionate about learning consume. And so, making sure that those stories are actually furthering the movement, furthering the mission, rather than kind of the poverty porn, the pity narratives that we typically have seen from non-profits put out to then generate sympathy to gain donations.
Sandie [00:05:38] Rachel, I have to interrupt you, because you’re going to need to define what you mean by poverty porn.
Rachel [00:05:44] Oh, sure. Good question. And so, this it can be a little bit of a controversial title. And so, this is what is typically known as one great example, I think was back in the early 90s when the snail mail era was alive and well and you might receive an envelope in the mail from an organization with a child’s face on it. And it was a nickel attached to that says, you know, send in a donation now, otherwise, this child might die and the exploitation of poverty to therefore raise funds. And so that’s what we refer to as poverty porn. Would you have anything to add to that Sandie? Actually, because you probably have a lot to say about that as well.
Sandie [00:06:23] No, I think you really did that well in when we transferred that approach to fundraising and antihuman trafficking, then the victim is almost always in the media that’s produced a child and almost always like a little lost kitten. And so, it reflects one segment of truly exploited children. But what about the other 75 percent of adults who are trafficked? And so that’s part of the media ethics and ethical storytelling, as you’re mentioning here, that we have to address and begin to be conscious about correcting.
Rachel [00:07:10] Yeah, absolutely. Yes. And so, when we’re telling these stories, especially in the anti-trafficking space, they are was educating the general public. There are what our constituents that we serve in our cases, young people in northern Thailand, it’s what they are having reflected back to who they are. And so, the media, the stories that we’re putting out, the importance of the truth-telling, the nuance, the dignity and an honest reflection of the struggle and the pain. But then out of that, the hope, the healing, the forgiveness. All of this encompasses the rounded narrative that is oftentimes missed in the nonprofit narrative. And so, what I mean by that, maybe to unpack that a little bit more, is that when we have a nonprofit or a general nonprofit narrative typically follows these three bullet points and it’s Sandie, I’ll use you as an example here. Sandie is hurting. And so, then Sandie meets the freedom story and now Sandie is better. And this is kind of the typical nonprofit arts that we might see in a blog posted an Instagram post. The film is Someone is hurting. They need the nonprofit, the nonprofit meet that need and now they are better. And while there are aspects of truth to that, the reality at the end of the day is that there’s so much that’s problematic with that. It’s the power dynamics of painting the organization as a hero. It’s the ending of a narrative that is absolutely on going past that story. And so, what is happening to Sandie past the, oh she’s met the organization they fixed her. That’s not reality. That’s not what happens in human lives. And so how can we tell a story that is still open-ended for people to continue with their lives? And so, I could keep unpacking this, but I think moving away from that typical story arc and there’s something that’s much more nuanced is incredibly important.
Sandie [00:09:11] So if I’m engaging about my story, that now I’m fixed, basically, it’s a very flat narrative and there are a beginning and an end. And of course, my life goes on with all of the scars of what I’ve suffered. And now what does that mean in ethical storytelling.
Rachel [00:09:32] Right, and so one of the issues that we’ve seen is that if we were to put out a story of a young person in our program that says that we’re being a little bit hyperbolic here, but now they’re fixed, they are better. Well, what happens if that young person then comes across an issue in their life and they need to reach out to staff and ask for help? At this point, our staff have received the message of their, quote-unquote, better. That child has seen a narrative that they’re supposed to be fixed. And so, of course, I’m being incredibly generalized language here. But at the end of the day, is that child then, given the confidence that they can continue to come back when they continue to have issues that they need support or help with, rather than the expectation put on them that they are supposed to be at a place now where they can handle it on their own?
Sandie [00:10:23] Wow. That is incredibly nuanced. You used another term that I think we need to spend a few seconds on power dynamics of the nonprofit to expand on that.
Rachel [00:10:34] Oh, goodness gracious. You know, we actually just did an entire podcast series on this. And so, if anyone is interested in digging deeper, I would highly encourage listening to it. But the mix on the nonprofit is, well, there are there’s a lot of these Sandie.
Sandie [00:10:50] I know. I know. That’s why I’m letting you answer that question.
[00:10:54] I hope that you’ll chime in as well. I think the best way to maybe start is to share my own story of vulnerability in this. And I think as a white person working in Asia, I think there is one giant power dynamic that’s present in my own organization as the person that was primarily behind the storytelling or the marketing of the organization. And so, one example that I’ll share with this is when we founded the Sold Project, our original title or name back in 2007, we were actually a documentary film project and we told the story of a young woman named Cat. She was nine years old at the time and we talked about how she was incredibly at risk. She had a lot of the risk factors that pointed to someone that would be vulnerable to exploitation. And so, we told a story. Her mom is a part of it. And at the end of it, we highlight the hope of prevention, not just received a scholarship that’s going to support her through college. And it inspired us to then start the organization. And we actually traveled with Cat’s story and this was back in the era of the DVD. And so, we were showing it at universities, at churches, any living room gatherings, and which now sounds so weird to say during Covid, but we traveled with this story that really, truly inspired so many people to believe in prevention. And as Cat grew up, we never put her film online because she was under the age of 18. And as she grew up when she turned 18, she at that point had become a very dear friend of mine, had lived with me for a couple of her summers studying English here in California. And I asked her, how would you like your film to be put online now? And she actually said no. And I said, fascinating. Can we talk about why? And I share a little bit of her why on one of our videos on our Vimeo page, The Freedom Story. But the thing I will share now that she said to me that really stuck with me is, I don’t want to be remembered in that way. And she talked about how far she’s come. And she’s a university student about to graduate with an English teaching degree. She’s fluent in English. She is young and beautiful and thriving. Her mother has since passed away. She didn’t want that information and she didn’t want how her mother was portrayed in that film available for everyone to see. She wanted to protect her mother’s legacy. And so all of these pieces and in that conversation began to really confirm a lot of things that had already been thinking about in terms of power dynamics. So, the question then became, how do we really, truly incorporate the voice of the constituent into the creation of the story in preproduction, in production and post-production, every element of that? How do we incorporate the voice of the constituent?
Sandie [00:13:55] Wow. So that reminds me of one of my Gap scholarship students who literally spent a semester trying to figure out how to get all of the stories that were online off. Because now she’s looking at herself as becoming a young professional with her own career. And she said people just have to Google my name and then they know all of that. I don’t want that out there. That’s not who I am now. And some of the organizations that helped her used videos of her to raise money. And yet. She doesn’t have enough money for an apartment and those kinds of things, and so the counterbalance to that sense of obligation to say, yes, I’ll do that video is a really messy piece of the power dynamics.
Rachel [00:14:48] Absolutely. There are two things that come to mind when you share that story because it’s a common story of people who are vulnerable and trusting space to share their narrative, to help the organization that has helped them. And so, there are two power dynamic pieces. Well, one part I piece. And then I have one follow up piece that comes to mind here. And the first is the conversation around consent and what is the consent process or the sharing of someone’s story. And my friend Michael Kass, who has done a lot of ethical storytelling workshops, and I’ve dubbed this term deep consent. And it’s going beyond this, the signing of a form, but really into the deep understanding of where and how the story will be used, who will benefit from it, potential damage or pain, or things that could come from sharing the story that might be negative. And then furthermore, a sunset policy. And is there a sunset policy on that story, meeting with the young person that you just shared about Sandie that the organizations say, hey, well, we’ll keep this on our page for five years, but then at that point, we’ll come back to you and revisit and again, the deep consent process, understanding that you can’t control the Internet. And once something is out there, it might be replicated and unable to be fully taken down. And so, having that process of deep consent and the sunset policy, I think, are two important aspects that just came to mind from what you shared that is so helpful.
Sandie [00:16:21] And I think another variable in that deep consent concern is that many times the storytellers for nonprofits are like the only variable they’re looking at is you’re 18. You can sign when we do victim services, survivor care, we’re looking at trauma-informed care. So, we need a trauma-informed consent that may actually take into consideration cognitive delays because of an interruption in normal developmental statuses. So, we can’t have one set of rules for survivor care and another set for fundraising, right?
Rachel [00:17:04] Exactly. Exactly right.
Sandie [00:17:07] OK, I can tell we could talk for a really long time. And I want our listeners to know that Rachel is going to be doing a workshop at Ensure Justice on March 5th and 6th in 2021. So, let’s kind of look now at the prevention side of this. It is so hard to prove prevention. No one is standing at the door counting how many people did not become victims. And I just had this conversation last week with Ambassador Richmond. How do we approach that? Because fundraiser’s they count, well, we did a prevention workshop at a high school and 60 kids attended. Right. So, you’ve approached prevention research from a different perspective. Can you tell me about that?
Rachel [00:17:58] I’m happy to share it. It’s an ongoing conversation. And probably their biggest daily challenge is the how do you quantify improve prevention? So, there’s no silver bullet for this. But I’m happy to share some of the tools that we’ve used over the years. First and foremost, there was a working backwards. And so, Thailand has obviously a very high reputation for sex tourism. And so, when we first began back in 2008, a lot of what we’re looking at was what might make a young person vulnerable specifically for this audience. So, it’s understanding the cultural context as well as what the demand looks like in a region and working backward from that. And so back when we first founded the organization, what we did was take a look at the cultural context. Obviously, sex tourism is a huge driving factor that brings a lot of demand and puts children at risk. And so, we worked backwards from what we were seeing in the red-light districts or in local brothels and karaoke bars of what are the kind of main factors of vulnerability that might be present in the young people working in these bars. So that was education levels, family dynamics, poverty or income levels, et cetera, et cetera, and then working backwards from that and saying, OK, well, now where do we how do we go to these places that. We’ve now understood that geographically these young people tend to migrate from how do we go to those places and start to offer the resources to fill those gaps? And so, education, poverty alleviation programs, we now have partnered with USAID to work with migrant communities because our headquarters is quite close to the Burmese border. And so, we’re able to work with migrant communities that are coming from Burma and so working backwards from those risk factors. And then, of course, we are constantly doing behavioral change surveys. And so, looking at if levels of understanding of what trafficking is, of increased or decreased, et cetera, et cetera, at the end of the day, what we define as a risk factor is what is constantly changing, and that’s what makes the work really challenging.
Sandie [00:20:23] Wow. And then you also keep really detailed records of the impact of your programs on the students. So, I looked on your website and I can look at impact reports all the way back to 2015. Have those measured the same things? Have they changed?
Rachel [00:20:47] So we actually hired our first M and E director ( Monitoring and Evaluation Manager) about four years ago. And that was something that if I could go back and change about how we hired and what we prioritized from the beginning; I would have done that from the very beginning. But now, of course, that’s become a huge focus of ours, is measuring the various factors that we decide are indicators as to what prevention can look like. And so, our M and E director, Lucy, is absolutely incredible. And so, yes, we have been tracking the same identifying factors since 2015, actually 2016 when she first joined us. And all of that is kind of held by our theory of change that we’ve created as a team as well.
Sandie [00:21:30] Wow. So, what would you recommend for an organization that’s been around for 10 years and only has anecdotal evidence? What should they do first?
Rachel [00:21:42] Yeah, hire someone that’s trained in M and E. I honestly, I have undervalued the importance of that. And so, when we were first hired, Lucy, who is our only foreigner, that’s on our team in Thailand, but she speaks fluent Thai. And when we first hired her, the first thing she did was work with each team on a theory of change. And basically, that’s why are we doing what we’re doing and what are we trying to accomplish. So, for example, one of our theories is that education, higher levels of education, makes a person less at risk of being trafficked. And that’s one theory that we believe in. And so then how do we as a team organize our programs and allocate our resources, financial and time from our staff to making sure that at the end of the day, we are doing everything we can as an organization with the resources given to us to support the young people in our programs to have a higher level of education. And that doesn’t always mean, even then, that it’s a traditional education. It might be some form of informal education or making sure that a young person has the tools that they need to take care of themselves at home, if they may have learning disabilities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, it’s working with each student on an individual level to define what that higher level of education might look like for them. But that’s one example of how we began to really train our team to think strategically towards those theories of change and then to come up with these identifying indicators that then allow them to track their progress over time.
Sandie [00:23:24] That’s so good. And I would challenge every leader to work on a theory of change for your organization as a whole and then for various projects that you’re doing. So, you understand the why and can allocate your resources. We’ve got five minutes left and I have two more questions. The first one is about the fundraising model that you’ve used with the freedom chapter that moves away from you can save five girls with one hundred dollars.
Rachel [00:24:00] We used to have a traditional one-to-one scholarship fundraising model so you Sandie could go to the website and say, I want to sponsor a high school student. And then we would Sandie their profile and you could write letters back and forth. And so, we followed that traditional one-to-one model and about two years ago we moved away from that. And here’s why. A lot of it was living out our ethical storytelling pledge, and we realized that that one-to-one model was one, unfair. We had some sponsors that were really good about writing, and so students would receive letters very frequently and we had other sponsors that maybe were able to give more but write less. And so, the kind of inconsistency among the relationships between us sponsoring the students was starting to create some jealousy among the students. So that was one. The second was that we actually found that some of our students because they had a sponsor, they felt so grateful and, in some ways, had been indebted to that. If they had issues, they actually didn’t want to tell our staff about them because they didn’t want their sponsor to hear about it. And so, we actually found that the saving face aspect and having that one-to-one model was actually doing a disservice to creating stronger relationships with our young people. And so, what we did is we moved away from that and to now this freedom chapter model where it’s a chapter of student, which is typically a 15 to 20 students that are all creating a chapter. A cohort might be a word that we use here in the states, to then move through their educational experience together. And it’s a group of donors that come around that chapter to financially support them. And so, all the letters that are written are grouped. So, a donor like Sandie, if you wanted to sponsor a chapter, you would then write a letter to the entire group. And the entire group writes letters back each quarter. And that has been for us. It’s been a really great experience to strengthen relationships among the students because now they have a group that they’re going through their educational experience with together. And each of those chapters also is assigned a mentor, someone on our staff that is able to do fun activities. The age levels are varying, and so they’re able to celebrate when one person might graduate from high school and another from elementary school, etcetera, etcetera. So, we’ve really seen a lot of success with that.
Sandie [00:26:21] Wow. OK, so last question. You’ve got like one minute to answer this. How do people become involved with your community of ethical storytelling?
Rachel [00:26:36] Yeah, that’s an easy one to answer. So, we do have a website and for anyone that is interested, we also have a pledge that you can sign. And this was a pledge that was put together by a beautiful group of diverse thinkers. And so, you can sign that pledge to put it at your desk to remind yourself daily of your ethical storytelling pledge. And then, of course, subscribing to our podcast and listening to those you hear a rich diversity of voices, which is really what we’re all about. And if people would like to contribute, please do email us. We have a rotating list of writers that we feature on our blog. And if there are any resources that you might be missing, please let us know what you need with the all-volunteer-led group. And so, we invite everyone to the table and are very open to the ideas of the needs of the community as well.
Sandie [00:27:26] Thank you so much, Rachel. I am so excited that you’re doing a workshop at Ensure Justice and people will get to spend an hour with you instead of only 30 minutes.
Rachel [00:27:37] Thank you so much for having me, Sandie.
Dave [00:27:39] Thank you so much to both of you for this conversation. Such an important topic for us to continue to challenge ourselves on prevention. And we’re inviting you now to take the first step. Please hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know: a Quick Start Guide to ending human trafficking. The guide will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified. You should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to that guide by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the very best place to find all the links and resources to Rachel’s work from today’s episode. And in addition, while you’re online, we’re inviting you to find out more about the Ensure Justice conference. As Sandie mentioned, that’s going to be on March 5th and 6th. Rachel will be there as well. EnsureJustice.com is where to go for information and to get registration taken care of early. And as always, if you have a question that’s come up from our conversation today, I hope you’ll go over on your email and go to feedback at Endinghumantrafficking.org. That is the very best way to get connected with us. And we will hopefully have a chance to respond to your question in a future episode. Thanks so much for listening. And we will see you back in two weeks. Take care, everybody.