Experts in marketing tell us that when it comes to making decisions, most of us follow our hearts over our heads. Whether we’re choosing a political candidate, making a purchase, or supporting a charitable organization, we generally are ruled by our emotions.

Naturally, businesses capitalize on this, and organizations working in the non-profit sphere are no exception.

We’ve all seen those commercials- the abandoned puppy, the starving child. Well-meaning charities use images like these to inspire pity and generate donations. So they’re manipulating our emotions, what’s the harm in that?

Poverty porn uses graphic images of people starving, suffering from disease or living in wartime in order to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. And it works- these types of images are proven to be more effective in soliciting donations than images of happy people. The problem is that these images oversimplify and misrepresent complex issues, misinforming the masses and perpetuating dangerous stereotypes. Furthermore, the people in the images are stripped of their dignity and objectified, thus the term “porn”.

In truth, these grim realities do exist. People in developing countries do suffer from problems like hunger and disease, and aid is an important step in turning those problems around.

However, there’s so much more to the story that isn’t shown.

Where are the children playing soccer, the best friends laughing over dinner, or the proud parents doting on their kids? How about the women’s group that meets weekly to come up with solutions to improve the community, or the teachers who give up their free time to help a struggling student?

Poverty porn not only misrepresents the impoverished but also poverty itself. It propagates the idea that poverty can simply be defined as lacking material resources or physical suffering, which leads people to believe that a quick donation can reverse it. In reality, there are many other issues at play such as the role of the local government, social structure, agriculture, gender roles, and history of the area.

At Global Citizen, we strive to create a movement of activism, not charity, yet poverty porn does just the opposite. These images make people living in poverty appear fundamentally different from people living in the developed world. Furthermore, they perpetuate the idea that the beneficiaries are hopeless victims unable to help themselves, unlike their capable donors.

We believe the movement to end extreme poverty must be led by people in extreme poverty, and our role is simply to assist in any way we can. Rather than offer charity, we want to work towards justice. As global citizens, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to achieve this. Join the movement and take action today.


Demand Equity

Why provocative images do a disservice to people living in poverty

By Christina Nuñez