Cause Vision: Using the Power of Comics To Fight Human Trafficking
It’s easy to say I always knew about human trafficking, even if that isn’t true. Five years ago, it was just something I occasionally saw on TV. But what if I didn’t have a TV? What if internet wasn’t available to me? What if I lived in a remote location, a developing nation, or a community without access to media technology? Enter Cause Vision.
To understand Cause Vision, we'll start with its founder, Natsuko Utsumi. Long before Cause Vision, Utsumi was traveling the world to report on challenging issues; including, conflict diamonds, ethnic cleansing, and domestic violence—subject matter she describes as, "unspeakably horrific…I spent two years researching about female genital mutilation (FGM) in eight countries in Africa to write a book," she writes. Though the book was well received, Utsumi wondered if it would actually help the victims of FGM.
"I started to feel rather useless as a journalist."
A remarkable statement, coming from a world-travelling photojournalist. But reporting wasn't enough for Utsumi. She wanted to provide education to those who really needed it, but couldn't easily get it, and she realized educational workshops were not enough.
"I noticed the difficulty of teaching the concept of ‘Human Rights of women and children’ in the communities that are dominated by the old traditional values of women, where women live under the generation-old rules," says Utsumi. Furthermore, trafficking is a problem in places with low literacy levels. So, Utsumi crafted her approach, coining a new term, micro information, adapted from the concept of micro financing. Pages of reading material and information-heavy workshops isn't always productive. Micro information is the idea of avoiding over-saturating people, providing a digestible amount of knowledge.
"It is obvious that children would open the book and start reading or looking at images if...a comic book is given to them," says Utsumi. Remembering a study done in Japan, Utsumi states, "graphic storytelling will leave a greater impact on the emotional level, thus better memory of the story. To make it most effective, we focus on ‘core messages.’"
Cause Vision researches the area they are trying to reach to evaluate literacy levels. The comic books cater to their readers' comprehension. The research goes into the story creation, too. "I usually research about most typical human trafficking cases in the area where books will be distributed," Utsumi says, "then discuss with local partner organizations what cases should be highlighted." And she always seeks at least one trafficking case about men. The comic book is crafted using the real life cases as inspiration. Utsumi writes some of them herself. Then local organizations print and distribute them.
Cause Vision has created 10 educational comic books against sex trafficking, translated into 13 languages.
"Yes, some books are translated into more than two languages," Utsumi says. "‘Phea’s Dream’ in Khmer (Cambodian) was translated into Indonesian, by the request from a leader of an organization, Mentari, to be distributed during their educational tour in Indonesia." Waiting for Sunrise was written for northern Thailand, but translated into Japanese, "because the predators in the story are Japanese and the victim is trafficked to Japan." It was distributed in Japan by Not For Sale Japan and ECPAT/Stop Japan. Utsumi states that "each book should relate to the geographically specific types of human trafficking...However, when the types of the trafficking and the locations are close enough to have similar culture, the books can be utilized in different countries."
Cause Vision comic books have been distributed in 14 countries in Asia and the Americas. Their media doesn't just educate about sex trafficking, but also other issues relevant to their target audiences, like forced labor and forced marriage. They find their artists through referrals and introductions, and sometimes are contacted by the artists themselves. In fact, when I asked how our readers might help, Utsumi welcomed referrals of talented artists, as well as donations through their Facebook page. "If any organizations [are] interested in using comic books for social change, contact us," Utsumi says. "If anybody would like to reprint our existing comic books for education of children, we will be happy to discuss what we can do together."
To me, the creation of Cause Vision is particularly inspiring. It started with one woman's idea and grew out of her personal strengths. It’s a movement for positive change. "The most exciting moment is when I see kids immediately open the comic books and start reading," Utsumi writes. In the midst of a challenging problem, Cause Vision presents a creative, thoughtful, and powerful solution.
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About the Author
Lucas Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. He likes Neo-noir films, running and cycling, classic American novels, small venue music shows, and burritos.