Daliah Singer is associate editor of 5280, a Denver magazine. Her April 2014 article, “The Girls Next Door,” investigates the sex trafficking of minors in Colorado. The article’s strong narrative bent, anchored by interviews with survivors Aubrey and Leah, is supported by research and experts.
Singer understands what it’s like to be challenged by this broad and complex topic; she spent nearly three years building sources and reporting before “The Girls Next Door” hit newsstands. Check out these five big points that emerged when JCCF spoke with Singer about “The Girls Next Door,” and read the best practice piece for more on the story behind the story.
1. Have a good grasp on the big picture before you approach people who are working in the trenches.
There’s no shortage of people working to combat human trafficking, Singer said. But some have been stung by sloppy reporting before. Research will help you approach them with good questions in mind.
Singer did her research before approaching sources. She also benefited from multiple calls to police and the FBI. When she approached people like victim specialist Anne Darr, she was prepared.
“I would present myself this way: ‘I’m interested in writing this story, I think it’s really important. Here’s all the research I’ve done, here are the people I’ve talked to’,” said Singer. “It helped them realize I’m coming at it from an all-encompassing, honest perspective.”
Background reporting not only helped her form good questions, it connected her to the narrative heart-and-soul of her piece: survivors Aubrey and Leah. Leah said that it was Anne Darr’s trust in Singer that made her feel comfortable to take the leap and share her story, according to Singer.
2. Language is powerful, be mindful of word choice.
“Child prostitute is a misnomer,” Singer said. “A number of people brought that up unprompted…it’s not possible.”
Singer referred to Aubrey and Leah as survivors, and she never labeled them criminals.
“Our police are treating minors as trafficked persons--not criminals,” Singer said. “I adopted the language they were using.”
3. Just as in every story, you need to get every side of the story.
“Social workers, survivors, legal experts, nonprofit experts, government sources, sexual trauma experts--you must talk to them all,” Singer said. “Talk to your district attorney, your attorney general. And figure out who’s missing. Your state doesn’t involve human services in these cases? Find out why.”
4. Take care with the numbers.
Sex trafficking data are collected and reported in different ways. Research articles may cover an entire region--like North America--or use a small data sample to extrapolate overly-broad conclusions. Tread carefully.
“Data support what your sources are saying and establish the scope of the issue,” Singer said. “But when we couldn’t confirm statistics with multiple, credible sources, we dropped them.”
Pay attention to phrases like “data limitations” and the term “at-risk of being trafficked;” don’t misrepresent estimated figures as concrete numbers of people who are trafficked, for example.
5. Be respectful. Be grateful. Be empathetic.
Interview sources who are ready to talk. Appreciate their limits and develop trust by recognizing those limits.
“Never forget your gratitude for the survivors,” Singer said. “They’re putting the most on the line and you must prioritize them, keep them No. 1. Maybe their families are not supportive. Maybe they have never chosen to share their story before. Be respectful, be grateful, be empathetic.”
- Consider these tips from The Dart Center for interviewing a person who has experienced violence, and how to take care when reporting a tough story.