How do you identify in terms of religion? Hindu? Muslim? Christian? If you are Muslim, are you Sunni or Shia? If you are a Christian, are you Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical or Baptist? Religious identity is increasingly complex, over-simplified and difficult to define, even in religious sub-groups.
Religious reporters face a challenge every day in their work. According to such journalists, religion plays a role in almost every story because faith shapes the values, actions and dreams of people. This was the resounding message of "Reporting on Religion: Media, Belief, and Public Life," a recent journalism conference held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The conference featured an array of speakers from research groups, such as Besheer Mohamed from Pew Research Center, to former religion reporters, such asJaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times, to a national news correspondent who has struggled with his own faith in David Gregory.
If you followed me on Twitter that day, I live-tweeted the event using #reportreligion. If you did not see those tweets, here is what you missed. Click here to see the full Twitter stream.
The time has come to own my ignorance. Like so many other people, I was oblivious to a problem the size of Beijing. An estimated 21 million people are part of the human trafficking trade in the world, with more than a quarter of them being children, according to UNICEF.
Most of my knowledge is thanks to Paige Lindner, a friend and fellow Marquette University student. Paige has become a fiery advocate for issues related to human trafficking and has shared her experiences working on the problem in the Philippines through a powerful blog. Over several cups of tea and coffee, she made me realize the weight of the trafficking problem, not just abroad but within the U.S. border as well.
She is an inspiring example of someone whose direct experience with a social reality has led to a God-given work ethic to raise awareness and make a difference.
Several recent pieces that shed light on the local problem of human trafficking encourage me to believe that more conversations are being had on this topic. Nicholas Kristof, an opinion writer for the New York Times, penned a column on how the website Backpage.com is making money by selling children into rape. Telling the story of a 15-year-old girl from Seattle sold online, Kristof punches audiences in the gut with a chilling paragraph on our ignorance toward human trafficking:
“If there were a major American website openly selling heroin or anthrax, there would be an outcry. Yet we Americans tolerate a site like Backpage.com that is regularly used to peddle children. We avert our eyes, and the topic tends not to come up in polite society.”
On an even more local level, Allison Dikanovic completed a special report on human trafficking in Milwaukee for Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Full disclosure, Allison is a dear friend and I work for the news service, but I applaud the work nonetheless.
Allison calls the problem a “crime hidden in plain sight.” One reason why the problem is so difficult to address is because its size is hard to quantify. In the piece, Allison writes that, “no data is available on the number of adult sex trafficking victims in Milwaukee, and there are only estimates of the number of minors at risk for trafficking. But experts say the extent of the problem is staggering.” However, she reports that Milwaukee is consistently ranked by the FBI as a top U.S. city for human trafficking.
The biggest lesson I have learned, as I move beyond my ignorance, is that individuals cannot try to tackle every social issue. My overarching mission is human rights journalism. I am drawn to issues related to race equality, education, the environment and poverty. However, those being my main areas of interest is not an excuse me from being aware and, most importantly, supporting those who are working on other issues.
I encourage you to read Kristof’s column and Allison’s special report. You can also hear Allison discuss the piece in her interview with Lake Effect radio. For more education about the global issue, Paige is my best contact. Again, much praise for those shedding light on this problem.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.