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U.K. slavery museum lambasted for “damaging” sex trafficking display

  • Published on
    December 18, 2020
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A slavery museum in the U.K. has come under heavy fire for an exhibition on human trafficking in the porn industry that many activists and academics deemed “dehumanizing.”

Following pressure from the public, academics and activists working in the anti-modern slavery space, including Freedom United, the International Slavery Museum announced on Friday that it would be taking down the exhibition.

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England typically focuses on the transatlantic slave trade, but sought to draw attention to the modern issue of sex trafficking with its ArtXFreedom display.

The display was intended to give visitors an opportunity to join the modern abolitionist movement and emphasize “ how this form of modern slavery is still rife.”

But the exhibit, publicized in a promotional tweet earlier this week, was immediately widely criticized for relying on graphic and sensationalizing imagery including naked women with tape over their mouths.

Dr. Hannah Lewis from the University of Sheffield, an expert in labor and immigration precarity, urged the International Slavery Museum to consider signing up to Freedom United’s My Story, My Dignity pledge and review our content guidelines.

Freedom United and other anti-trafficking organizations have long called for a move away from such harmful imagery, which misrepresents modern slavery to the public and can re-traumatize survivors.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:

A tweet by the museum announcing the exhibition this week attracted dozens of critical responses, including from anti-trafficking activists and academics who said the artworks were “trauma porn” and “damaging, sensationalist and dehumanising”.

“This is so problematic on so many levels,” said Inga Thiemann, a law lecturer at Exeter University who teaches on modern slavery and human trafficking.

The exhibition was created through a partnership with U.S. anti-trafficking group Exodus Cry, which seeks to end sex trafficking in pornography but has been criticized for stigmatizing sex workers.

In a statement on Friday, the museum announced that it would be taking down the exhibit in response to the criticism.

We will be removing the display from the International Slavery Museum and will take this time to review and reflect on how we can continue to better highlight the dire state of modern slavery and anti-trafficking work. In doing so, we want to acknowledge and respect the work of the artists involved and the women who have so bravely shared their stories as part of the display.

Freedom United has been a passionate advocate of respectful representations of modern slavery since its inception, promoting these principles through our flagship My Story, My Dignity campaign and pledge—now taken by over 40 organizations.

Help us power our call for respectful and accurate representations of modern slavery and take the pledge today.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

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megan ickler
megan ickler
3 years ago

I disagree, it should B shown in the horror that is, otherwise, it is not thot 2 B so bad. Sure it can B done tastefully. Afterall U have renaissance nudes.

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