Misconceptions of Human Trafficking
An estimated 25 million individuals are trafficked globally on any given day. About 5.4 people per every 1,000 people in the world were victims in 2016. Additionally, one in four of these victims were children and three in four were women or girls. Approximately 89 million people have experienced some form of human trafficking within the last five years. Some victims suffer for a few days while others suffer for several years. Human trafficking is widespread and pervasive, and it is imperative that people understand the problem before addressing it. There are several common misconceptions of human trafficking that can make it difficult to identify and provide relief to victims. Here are five of these misconceptions.

5 Common Misconceptions of Human Trafficking

  1. Human Trafficking is Always Violent and Involves the Use of Force: Human trafficking is more than just kidnapping. The United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” Human trafficking also includes any commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, coercion in minors, as well as organ harvesting and the use of child soldiers. Kidnappings and abductions are not the only factors in classifying human trafficking, as people typically traffic victims through fraud or coercion. Many victims may lack the personal documents or financial resources to escape. They may also fear for their safety.
  2. Human Trafficking Only Involves Commercial Sex: Sex trafficking is the most sensationalized form of human trafficking in the news. However, experts believe that there are more instances of labor trafficking worldwide. It is difficult to measure the scope of labor trafficking because sex trafficking cases receive more attention from the media and law enforcement. Labor trafficking receives less awareness largely due to this misconception of human trafficking.
  3. Human Trafficking Only Happens in Illegal Industries: Illicit and legal industries both report cases of human trafficking. Trafficked individuals often work alongside free employees. Some of the many legitimate industries in which trafficked individuals might work include restaurants, hotels, cleaning services, agriculture, construction and factories. However, people can also be exploited for criminal activity such as in street-level drug distribution businesses and cross-border drug smuggling schemes. Gang and drug dealing activity often occurs alongside sex trafficking business models as well.
  4. Human Trafficking Only Happens in Developing Nations: Both developed and developing nations experience human trafficking. Depending on their vulnerabilities, certain individuals are at a higher risk of being trafficked. Rachel Parker, the Program Manager of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division at World Relief Triad, told The Borgen Project these vulnerabilities include poverty, lack of education, violence and gang activity. She highlighted that native populations are an especially vulnerable demographic. Additionally, Parker noted familial factors, including having “too many mouths to feed” or parent-child separation as a result of immigrating in search of work. Lastly, she cited institutional variables such as a “lack of appropriate government support” as risk factors.
  5. Individuals Being Trafficked Always Want To “Get Out”: Victims of human trafficking do not always identify themselves as victims. Every trafficking situation is complicated and unique. Perpetrators often manipulate victims into human trafficking. In addition, some experience shame, guilt, fear and even feelings of loyalty towards their trafficker. These circumstances can prevent a victim from seeking help. Parker states, “Even if they don’t see [trafficking] as the worst thing to happen to them, we still have to respond.” She says they often see this in cases with minors who have experienced other traumas such as sexual assault. They might see their trafficking situation as the lesser of two evils. Parker emphasized that this is one of the largest misconceptions of human trafficking: the question of “Why didn’t they leave?”

Parker stated the one thing she wishes she could tell everyone about human trafficking is that “it is a crime of egregious exploitation, and if unaddressed in partnership throughout the world, it will continue to grow.” Furthermore, she emphasized that people should not fight by themselves, but that “the community and world need to take responsibility.” For example, governments can work with local providers to disseminate information, attend to gang violence and develop service infrastructure for survivors.

Human trafficking is a global problem that requires global solutions. First, however, education and awareness must eradicate misconceptions of human trafficking. Only then, can this widespread issue be adequately addressed.

– Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr