Telling Stories Ethically: A Resource Guide
As Dressember advocates, it is our job to be storytellers. When we don our dresses, we take on the responsibility of sharing about Dressember’s purpose and cause: seeing the end of human trafficking, by fighting for the dignity of all people. One of the most impactful ways to help others understand what Dressember is fighting for is by sharing the stories of those affected by human trafficking or those benefiting from one of the Dressember partners.
In our fight for the dignity of all people, is it possible that sharing these stories could actually strip away dignity? YES. That is, if we are not careful with how we tell those stories. Rachel Goble talks a lot about this in her Ethical Storytelling community.
In our fight for the dignity of all people, is it possible that sharing these stories could actually strip away dignity?
This past fall, I had the opportunity to visit the organization that Goble helped start in Chiang Rai, Thailand, now named The Freedom Story. While there, I heard about their beauty from ashes experience with ethical storytelling. The Freedom Story first started as the documentary The Sold Project. The original documentary was filmed nearly a decade ago when Rachel and her American film team visited a rural village in Thailand to show the gruesome effects of sex trafficking.
Their original intentions were good, but they now recognize the potential destruction that telling those personal stories could have had on the lives of those they were trying to help. As a part of this change of mindset, they changed the name of their organization to a more empowering name and pulled together resources to build a community centered around telling others’ stories the way we would want our own to be told.
Ethical storytelling resources available to the public include a pledge you can read and sign, a podcast, a webinar, and various guides and codes of conduct. Reading through and signing their pledge left a major impact on my life.
Personally, I have come to see that ethical storytelling is really centered around the question of who the story belongs to. This puts some implications on the way I tell their story. Instead of giving my voice to the voiceless, I am recognizing the voice they already have and letting that voice shape the story. I, as the storyteller, simply become the platform. This means keeping the subject’s best interest in mind, asking not only for their permission, but their input, using empowering images and wording, and representing situations truthfully among other things (the whole list can be found in the pledge). This also means being open to the fact that sometimes it is better to not tell the story at all.
Instead of giving my voice to the voiceless, I am recognizing the voice they already have and letting that voice shape the story.
As we prepare for Dressember 2018, learning to tell stories ethically is a way we can practice our advocacy throughout the entire year. Until next December, happy pants-wearing. May we as advocates learn to tell stories well.
You don't have to wait until December to be a part of the impact. Join the Dressember Collective and become part of a powerful community of advocates and donors furthering the work and impact of the Dressember Foundation through monthly giving.
About the Author
Reagan Swier enjoys fashion, food, travel, writing, and more. She believes that all of those passions (and your passions too!) can be used to advocate for social justice and create a better world for future generations. Currently, she is a Senior at a small university in Oregon, where she helps lead her school’s IJM (International Justice Mission) chapter. She enjoys the creative scene of the Portland area, which inspires her writing and feeds her passion for social entrepreneurship.