So vile and heartbreaking is child prostitution that many people prefer to operate under the assumption that it’s someone else’s problem in another part of the world. ECPAT USA, a human rights group working for the elimination of commercial sexual exploitation of children, hopes to end the willful silence around the matter.
ECPAT’s new campaign, created by JWT New York and Digitaria, centers around Emma, a delicate Russian nesting doll that serves as a metaphor of how exploitation chips away at a child’s sense of being. With each new doll, a layer of clothing is removed and a fact about global and domestic child prostitution is revealed. The final doll, shamefully covering herself, reveals the tagline “Every time I’m touched, a piece of me is lost” along with a statistic that each year over 200,000 children in the U.S. are at risk of being forced into prostitution.
We asked JWT creative director Giovanni Maletti about ECPAT’s goals, the birth of Emma as ECPAT’s face of innocence, and why turning a blind eye is part of the problem.
CO.CREATE: I think it’s safe to assume that when people think of children being forced into prostitution they consider it a foreign problem. Why is awareness of this problem in the U.S. so low?
GIOVANNI MALETTI: I think there are a couple of reasons. Child prostitution and sex tourism in places like Thailand have receive such widespread coverage in the press that people automatically make the association when they hear about it. The topic is also so fraught with moral and emotional issues that it’s easier to turn a blind eye to it. People don’t want to admit that it’s happening in our own backyard.
What does ECPAT most want people to know about this issue?
The first thing is simply to raise awareness of the issue. To confront people with the fact that it’s not a foreign problem. It’s a very real and devastating issue, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of American children. On that scale it becomes a societal problem, and it needs to be addressed.
What are some of the ways that ECPAT helps fight human trafficking?
ECPAT USA is first and foremost an advocacy group for the victims of commercial sexual trafficking in the U.S. One of the great injustices of this issue is that in many states, children who have been lured or forced into prostitution are still treated as criminals. ECPAT provides guidance, policy recommendations, and advocacy support to organizations across the country to help improve the legal and system response to exploitation. ECPAT also provides health and financial support for children who have been exploited by the sex trade.
Please tell me a bit about Emma and why this was the best creative direction to raise awareness of the issue.
The Russian nesting doll is a visual metaphor for the innocence of youth. As we interact with Emma we see that innocence slowly twisted and stripped away by sexual exploitation. Emma reminds us that although things may look fine on the surface, there’s a darker truth within. She tells us that, at first glance, many of these kids appear just like the girl next door. She’s also a reminder that society has a way of glossing over the issue.
Aside from the commercial and the website, are there other ways that Emma is being used?
We created a hundred hand-painted Russian dolls that are being sent specifically to key influencers–celebrities, politicians, and media personalities with large followings on Facebook or Twitter. The real dolls were actually the genesis of the campaign. We wanted to engage people on a visceral and emotional level, and the doll literally puts the problem in their hands. It pushes people out of their comfort zone and is hard to escape–it confronts you with the issue.