We met the women whose stories would eventually comprise Stories in Blue through introductions by anti-trafficking agencies. Though others were sometimes along for each interview, I was present at all of them. Each was a very difficult experience. I would find myself gasping at times. At times I became very uncomfortable with what these women were telling me. I was horrified for myself and for them. I had to play on a deep sense of empathy and really engage with their stories. Just breathe and listen.
This is the best strategy overall, because it leads to a sense of mindfulness at all times in the interview. I can remember in the very first interview. I had read this young woman’s story already, so I was prepared for what I was about to hear, and yet nothing could prepare me for just how difficult it was to listen to her tell her story first hand, to me, in that space. I think it’s important to let the interview subject choose where she wants to be interviewed, so I drove quite a distance, across the state to where she’s living now to meet her at her convenience. I was sweaty and nervous, but I found myself listening with every inch of my being and breathing along with her. If you find yourself listening to an interviewee’s breath, then you know you’re truly with her in that space.
Another time, when I first interviewed a different survivor, she was unhappy with the results of interview and asked me not to use it. Later on she granted me a second interview and that time, I drove to her house and met her there. This was better because the first interview had been at my house and I really don’t think she was comfortable at all there. Respect, listening, breathing, choice and safety always had to be present in these interviews.
We made sure to keep each survivor anonymous, to protect them and their families. To this end, all identifying features of their stories have been removed.
I’m so thankful for each survivor’s willingness to talk. No matter what happened in each interview, I am grateful for how much I learned and grew and that we can now share these stories with the world. Because of them, we have this incredible opportunity to make some lasting change on the front of human trafficking.