Combating Misinformation: Myths and Realities of Trafficking Crimes
MYTH: Victims must be held against their will using some form of physical restraint or bondage.
REALITY:While some traffickers physically hold the people they exploit, it is more common for them to use psychological means of control. Fear, trauma, drug addiction, threats against families, and a lack of options due to poverty and homelessness can all prevent someone from leaving. Some individuals who experience trafficking may also be manipulated or believe they are in love with their trafficker, which can make them resistant to seeking help. Some traffickers use more subtle methods of trapping and controlling people, such as:
- Isolating them from family, friends, and the public by limiting contact with outsiders and making sure that any contact is monitored
- Confiscating passports or other identification documents
- Threatening to shame them by exposing humiliating circumstances to their families
- Threatening imprisonment or deportation if they contact authorities
- Debt bondage through enormous financial obligations or an undefined or increasing debt
- Controlling their money
MYTH: Victims will be desperate to escape their trafficker and ask for help when they need it.
Individuals who experience trafficking may not readily seek help due to a number of factors, including shame, self-blame, fear, or even specific instructions from their traffickers regarding how to behave when interacting with others. They do not always self-identify and may not realize that they have rights.
MYTH: Human trafficking is the same thing as sex trafficking.
Human trafficking also includes labor trafficking, which involves children and adults compelled to perform labor or services by force, fraud, or coercion.
MYTH: Only women and children experience trafficking.
Anyone can experience human trafficking, including men. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, often with promises of a better life. Risk factors for trafficking include prior history of abuse or sexual violence, generational trauma, poverty, unemployment, and unstable living situations, or homelessness.
MYTH: It’s always or usually a violent crime
By far the most pervasive myth about human trafficking is that it always – or often – involves kidnapping or otherwise physically forcing someone into a situation. In reality, most human traffickers use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.
MYTH: Human trafficking involves moving, traveling, or transporting a person across state or national borders
Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, which involves illegal border crossings. In fact, the crime of human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever. Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their own hometowns, even their own homes.
MYTH: All commercial sex is human trafficking
All commercial sex involving a minor is legally considered human trafficking. Commercial sex involving an adult is human trafficking if the person providing commercial sex is doing so against his or her will as a result of force, fraud, or coercion.
MYTH: All human trafficking victims are kidnapped and isolated.
This myth about human trafficking is often portrayed in pop culture. But human trafficking doesn’t require the victim to be taken from their home at all. As long as force, fraud, or coercion is present (or the victim is under age 18) the victim doesn’t need to be transported.
MYTH: Victims and traffickers are usually strangers.
A trafficker could be a family friend, a significant other, or a close relative. Familial trafficking is a horrific reality where a victim’s trafficker is a direct family member. When the trafficker already has a connection to the victim, it can be easier to coerce the victim into forced sex or labor.
MYTH: Rescue brings immediate relief for survivors.
For survivors, the process of police intervention is often traumatic. Many have a deep fear of law enforcement and have extreme panic and confusion during law enforcement contact. Survivors then are sometimes asked to give testimony to police regarding their abuse, which can be further traumatizing. It is not uncommon for victims to try and hide or escape from police during a rescue operation. Rescue is not the final step to freedom for each survivor, but, rather, it is the beginning of a lifelong process of healing.
MYTH: The best way to fight trafficking is to take victims from their situation.
While it may seem like removing victims from their situation is the best way to help them, that action could be highly dangerous and even classified as kidnapping. Reporting to the proper authorities is the best action to take if you suspect trafficking. When the police are able to recover the survivor and arrest the traffickers involved, significant impact is made. With the traffickers facing criminal charges, they are prevented from trafficking more victims, and human trafficking itself becomes a more dangerous crime for criminals.