“I told them I do not want to be filmed,” said one of the Yazidi women. “It’s not good for me. It’s dangerous.”
Their objections have raised issues about what constitutes informed consent by traumatized survivors and about the different standards applied to documentary subjects in Western countries.
– From the New York Times
Especially for abuse survivors, we believe the matter of consent is more … It involves a process of free, informed participation without the hindrance of fears of retribution … from those in positions of authority and power.
On September 26, 2021, the New York Times published an article, “Women Enslaved by ISIS Say They Did Not Consent to a Film About Them” by reporters Jane Arraf and Sangar Khaleel. They are referring to Sabaya, an award-winning film about Yazidi women and girls who escaped sexual slavery.
In this article, several Yazidi women spoke anonymously, for fear of repercussions, that they did not consent to being in the film. As survivors of sexual slavery, to have their images and stories used without consent is exploitative and retraumatizing. The article describes additional troubling issues, such as sending written consent forms to participants after the film had already screened, a woman being told the film was for personal uses, and other unethical practices.
We stand against the exploitation of sexually-abused women through these filmmaking practices. Especially for abuse survivors, we believe the matter of consent is more than obtaining written forms and verbal agreements. It involves a process of free, informed participation without the hindrance of fears of retribution, endangerment of basic survival needs, and other potential negative consequences from those in positions of authority and power.
Because abuse survivors have been conditioned to fear authority figures and accommodate others’ wishes, their degree of consent can be questionable when they are recovering from traumatic experiences. We call upon the documentary community to set a higher level of accountability when working on films involving sexual abuse and slavery.