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5 Common Myths About Human Trafficking

When people hear the phrase “human trafficking,” many interpretations come to mind—and many misconceptions. The public’s perception of human trafficking comes largely from media outlets, such as social media and television, where falsity and biases easily spread. 

Unfortunately, perpetuating myths detracts from real resources and solutions. That’s why it is crucial to distinguish fact from fiction.

In this post, we are tackling five common myths related to human trafficking.

Myth #1: Human trafficking is always a violent crime.

Reality: According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), one of the most pervasive myths of human trafficking is that it involves kidnapping or physical force. But the truth is, “most traffickers use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.”

Myth #2: Victims do not know their traffickers.

Reality: Sadly, many traffickers are friends and family members—including romantic partners, spouses, and parents—who foster dependency and trust in order to exploit their victims. For an example, check out our blog on the boyfriend model of human trafficking in which romantic partners promise love and provision in a scheme to manipulate vulnerable victims.

Myth #3: Human trafficking only happens outside the United States, particularly non-Western countries.

Reality: “Human trafficking exists in every country, including the United States. It exists nationwide—in cities, suburbs, and rural towns—and possibly in your own community” (Department of Homeland Security). In fact, 403,000 people live in slavery in the United States and 540 victims were identified in Pennsylvania in 2019 based upon calls to the NHTH.

Myth #4: Human trafficking victims will seek help when in public.

Reality: Most victims are already financially, emotionally, and physically vulnerable and have nowhere to go even if they can escape. Fear of physical violence or retaliation from their traffickers, who may possess their documentation, and a distrust of law enforcement are further barriers for seeking help. Further, the intense trauma of human trafficking and sexual violence can lead victims to form unhealthy “trauma bonds” with their exploiters.

Myth #5: Only women and girls can be victims of sex trafficking.

Reality: According to the International Labour Organization, 71% of all human trafficking victims are women or children, a percentage that rises to 99% when considering exclusively sex trafficking. Yet, it’s likely an underrepresentation of male victims. According to NHTH, “one study estimates that as many as half of sex trafficking victims and survivors are male…but that male victims are far less likely to be identified. LGBTQ boys and young men are seen as particularly vulnerable to trafficking.”

Human trafficking does not discriminate by age, gender, race, or sexual orientation, but there are significant risk factors and common tactics of which we must all be aware. It can be easy to get lost in the misinformation spread by movies, frightening stories, and misleading facts from other well-intentioned individuals, but it’s crucial to separate the myths from the truth.

Through accuracy and listening to victims’ experiences, we can better educate ourselves and others and promote meaningful solutions to end human trafficking.

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