Child trafficking is heartbreaking, infuriating, and incites demands for change. Sadly, misinformation about the topic can cause misdirected activism from well-intentioned individuals, often harming the anti-human trafficking movement.
While misunderstanding and sensationalism of human trafficking has long been an educational barrier, theories about sex trafficking rings have gained traction, often with political motivations that distract from the true problems and solutions. Make no mistake, exploitation of individuals can exist anywhere, especially amidst an imbalance of power. However, conspiracy theories distort the reality of child and adult sex trafficking and can undo years of awareness campaigns, even leading to the attempted silencing of survivors.
According to survivor Christy Croft upon seeing fact-less theories, “As a survivor, when I see it, I feel exploited again…I feel like my trauma and the trauma of people like me is being exploited for purposes other than ending trafficking.”
Here are common facts about child trafficking by which to judge political theories and social media storms.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) defines child sex trafficking as the recruitment, solicitation, and patronizing of a minor for commercial sex acts, with traffickers often luring victims with an offer of food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. Look to trusted government sources and established anti-trafficking organizations for facts by which to judge social media and political stories.
Though trafficking is popularly conceptualized as a dramatic kidnapping, that is rarely the case. According to the Polaris Project, child victims often know their perpetrators as a person they have been groomed to trust.
Victims are frequently economically or socially vulnerable, have a history of abuse or health disorders, come from the foster system, and may live on the streets. There have even been accounts of victims being groomed while living at home or sold by their own family members.
Online recruitment and solicitation is increasingly utilized, with pimps and traffickers identifying, advertising, and soliciting minors through the internet and social media.
Not all victims look the same–indeed, they may not even recognize themselves as such and law enforcement may arrest and jail them.
This is a valuable opportunity to help educate yourself and other well-meaning individuals to better understand a difficult issue. Learning about the signs of human trafficking, common grooming tactics, online safety, and the reasons that children are initially vulnerable to human trafficking is more important than ever.
There is no universal formula for human trafficking. Rather, it is crucial to listen, to know someone’s story, and to support survivors and experts in taking down the network of traffickers.