Getting it right. Making it Matter.

Telling the Real Story of Human Trafficking


The Liam Neeson-shaped elephant in the room

In the anti human trafficking world, Taken has become a shorthand for how NOT to make content about human trafficking.

The reference is to Taken, a 2008 action-adventure film starring Liam Neeson as a heroic father racing to save his teenage daughter, who was forcibly kidnapped to be sold into human trafficking. It was successful enough to spawn two sequels.

The film was created as entertainment in the action-adventure genre and no one involved claimed to be telling a “true” or “ripped from the headlines” story. Unfortunately, it had the unintended effect of completely miseducating the public about what human trafficking is, how it happens, and who it happens to. Nearly 15 years later, those of us who work in the anti-trafficking field are still managing the consequences. Indeed, we often start out saying things like: “You know that movie Taken? Well that’s not really how trafficking happens.”

Such is the power of narrative. And with great power – stop me if you’ve heard this – comes great responsibility.

This guide is not meant to make you think twice about creating content about human trafficking. Our goal is to help you do that important and potentially powerful work with the guidance of those resilient, brave, powerful people who have experienced trafficking and fought their way to freedom. This guide was informed by a diverse community of survivors of sex and labor trafficking, including Jessa Dillow Crisp, April Baker and many others who did not choose to be thanked by name. We are grateful to all for their time, their commitment and their unparalleled expertise.

We are also hopeful that with their guidance, content creators can help those in a position to make the kinds of changes we need, while understanding the reality of the crime, and with it, the solutions that do and do not work. Accurate portrayals of human trafficking may also help victims and survivors who don’t currently self-identify to recognize their own experiences and seek help if they choose.

Thank you for all you do. Your work could not matter more.

Catherine Chen


Note: Photos are for illustrative purposes. All people depicted are models.

Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.