My Dangerous Loverboy
Although sex trafficking within the UK is a national problem, until recently it was a virtually hidden issue. With funding from the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), Professor Virginia Heath and Senior Lecturer Steve Sprung of the Art and Design Research Centre (ADRC) created My Dangerous Loverboy, a film and cross-platform media project about sex trafficking. The project has had significant and varied impact, raising awareness among potential victims, changing the attitudes of workers in frontline agencies and informing and shaping public and political debate.
UKHTC commissioned the research in 2008 because it found that sexually exploited teenagers were often stigmatised as runaways, truants, prostitutes and petty criminals rather than understood as victims of serious crime. The primary aim was to create a film as a key intervention to alert young people to the dangers of trafficking, to support victims in escape, and to prevent others being groomed by bogus 'boyfriends'.
To make the film, Heath interviewed frontline agency workers and victims from five regional and national projects, and visits were made to locations where 'on street grooming' was known to take place. The unprecedented insights made through primary observational research were fundamental to the nature and content of the film.
Because of the vulnerable position of sexually exploited young women, the researchers decided to use the medium of fiction, rather than documentary, to protect identities. This involved fashioning a dramatic narrative from the primary research that would powerfully reflect the realities of sexual exploitation. At each stage of production Heath would show the film to the interviewees for their feedback, resulting in a film with an original and authentic voice. Further funding allowed the researchers to produce a website and social media to target the film's hard-to-reach teenage audience.
The project has raised awareness with potential victims in schools nationally through the widespread use of the Love or Lies Educational Resource Pack. The film is also promoted through the My Dangerous Loverboy website, which encourages direct participation from young people via a variety of social media including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr.
The film has been instrumental in raising awareness and changing the attitudes of frontline agency workers through inclusion in agency training materials and film screenings by, amongst others, the Home Office, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (now National Crime Agency), the Office of Criminal Justice Reform, the Association of Chief Police Officers and health professionals.
The research has informed and shaped public and political debate about the sex trafficking of young people and improved public understanding of social issues. Both the BBC News website and national newspapers including The Times have indicated that the research has had an impact in raising public debate on the issue. Moreover, My Dangerous Loverboy was used to raise awareness with the panel of an inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland by The Equality and Human Rights Commission. Further afield the work is promoted by the United Nations Global Initiative to fight Human Trafficking and COMBAT, an EU funded anti trafficking project.
Links to further information
Winner, National Film Board of Canada Cross Media Challenge, 2008
Selected for Atlantic International Film Festival, Canada, Sept 2009 and Sheffield International Doc / Fest: November 2008