'Heartbreaking': Anti-Human Trafficking Experts Hit Journalists' Lack of Interest In New DHS Center

Posted: Oct 30, 2020 5:15 PM

“Heartbreaking," "a hard pill to swallow," and "disappointment" were some of the words used to describe Alia El-Sawi's and Tanya Gould's feelings when reporters did not ask a question when given the opportunity to do so at the opening of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Countering Human Trafficking.

El-Sawi works at Homeland Security Investigations as a Victim Assistant Specialist and Gould is a survivor of domestic sex trafficking who works as an advisor to DHS. Both were in attendance at the center's official opening to provide more information on what the center's mission is and how it can make a difference in combating human trafficking in the United States and around the world.

The video showing the awkward silence when no reporter asked a follow-up question was posted on Twitter and went viral.

"There was certainly an element of disappointment," El-Sawi recalled to Townhall on Friday, saying she liked to think the reporters did not have questions because DHS was so thorough in its initial presentation.

"But the reality of it is reporters typically do have questions and I don't know if there's some distraction with everything going on in D.C. right now and there's a lot going on, but this is an issue and a topic that really affects everyone and for folks to think that it doesn't is 1. ignorant 2. this is a bipartisan issue. This is a good thing that we're seeing happening in the human trafficking movement and it was just sad, and heartbreaking, it made me sad for the survivors that took their time to tell their story...to just have no one ask any question, good, bad or indifferent, was just disappointing," El-Sawi explained.

Gould said she thinks if it was not an election year then there would have been a lot more questions.

"[The center] is newsworthy, but I feel like the media is so focused on the election year that it wasn't a priority" for the media, Gould said. "I just feel like they didn't do their job." 

Gould said the lack of national attention on human trafficking is part of the reason why it's such a large problem to begin with and the media is able to shine a spotlight on the issue to make people aware of what's happening just under the surface of their day-to-day lives.

"Not that the election is not important, not that COVID is not important," but so is the issue they were discussing at the center's official opening. To add insult to injury, Gould said a reporter did later approach her to ask why she took her mask off when she went to speak.

"I told her because I wanted to so I could be heard, she proceeded to ask me another question and I had to stop her and tell her I felt her question to me was insensitive because I stood there and told my story and she didn't have a question, not just in regards to my story, but in regards to the event," Gould said. "It was a hard pill to swallow because this is, to me, the reality of being a survivor of human trafficking because we know we've been overlooked for many different reasons."

"I said to her, 'If you were take everything you're doing with wearing masks or not wearing masks and COVID, if you were just to push that up a little and move the public into what is going on with human trafficking, then maybe we'd have more awareness,'" Gould added, saying the mask question was a "reality check" for her on how much more they have to go in educating the public on how serious the issue of human trafficking is.

Both El-Sawi and Gould said the new center is a game-changer in combating human trafficking because it cuts through bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to investigations and workload. Gould pointed out how it is frustrating when scattered agencies are unable to work together for any number of reasons and putting people under one roof solves many issues or solutions are able to be thought of more easily.  

"We have to come together. We're talking about eradicating human trafficking, right? That's a big undertaking. This is generational. And so to do something like that, you have to do something big," Gould said. With the center being created and operating out of the Trump administration's own volition, Gould said as a survivor, it shows to her and others "we are not forgotten."

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