Myths Vs. Realities of Human Trafficking


Let’s dispel some myths about human trafficking:

First, watch this video about two American teens who were lured into sex trafficking from Shared Hope International.

1. Myth: Child sex trafficking is not happening in the United States.

Fact: 100,000 to 300,000 children are trafficked in the United States each year. These are American children who are kidnapped, lured and conned into a life of selling their sexual services with as many as 48 exploiters per day. The average age of an American child to be exploited is 12-14. It happens in cities, suburbs and rural towns and even in your own community.

2. Myth: Human trafficking is only sex trafficking.

Fact: Sex trafficking is not the only form of human trafficking. Human trafficking also includes forced labor on farms/agriculture, domestic homesteads, sweat shops, fishing industry, labor industries, massage parlors, restaurants and hotels.

3. Myth: Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public.

Fact: Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. Victims may be afraid to come forward and ask for help because their lives or the lives of their loved ones are being threatened. Often they don’t see themselves as a victim and gain the mentality that they are performing for their traffickers out of loyalty and insecurities. They are often coerced and forced to participate in whatever trade they are being trafficked in with violence, threats of violence, fear of retribution from their traffickers, or they may not have any control over money, legal documents or their physical selves. They develop a lack of trust, self-blame and a victim mentality of being helpless. Most victims are brain washed and may have Stockholm Syndrome.

4. Myth: Human Traffickers are what the movies portray them to be.

Fact: Traffickers are not always powerful gangsters and organized crime lords. Often times, they are local pimps or johns who may have up to 6 girls at a time. Trafficking occurs within a wide range of socioeconomic classes and those involved could be anyone. There is no one type of trafficker. In some cases traffickers are farmers, agriculturalists, politicians, local law enforcement, businessmen and women, restauranteurs, neighbors, boyfriends, parents, siblings and other family members and family friends.

 5. Myth: Only women and girls are trafficked.

Fact: Men and boys are also victims of human trafficking, however, they get much less media attention than trafficked women and girls. According to the Human Trafficking Center, about 98% of sexual exploited humans are female, with 2% or about 400,000 being men and boys. However, when looking at those who are victims of labor exploitation, 42-60% of victims are men and boys. Boys are also used in the sex trade and up to 40% of those traffickers and perpetrators that exploit boys are women.

6. Myth: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same.

Fact: Although the two terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same. Human trafficking, by definition, is a crime against a person that involves the recruiting, harboring, exploiting and selling of a person for prostitution, forced labor, or slavery. Human smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders, and involves the movement of a person across a country’s border with that person’s consent and in violation of immigration laws. Although they are very different, human smuggling can turn into human trafficking when coercion, force, and fraud is used to hold individuals against their will for the purposes of labor or sexual exploitation.

7. Myth: Individuals MUST be forced or coerced into the commercialization of sex acts or pornography in order to be a victim of human trafficking.

Fact: Under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 who is urged to perform commercial sex acts or pornography is a victim of human trafficking regardless of whether he/she is forced or coerced. Even if the trafficked individual is an adult, and initially consented to their initial situation, whether it be sexual or labor related, if they are then kept against their will through coercion or threats, then the initial situation is not relevant to the initial crime. Just because they initially made the decision to participate in sexual or labor related activities does not mean they knew better and does not mean that they deserved to have it escalate to a human trafficking situation.

8. Myth: Human trafficking only occurs in illegal underground industries.

Fact: Human trafficking can occur in both legitimate and illegitimate environments. Legitimate business settings include agriculture/farming, restaurants, hotels, other hospitality businesses, manufacturing and labor businesses. Illegitimate business settings include brothels, illegal massage parlors, street based and internet based commercial sex.

9. Myth: Human trafficking victims always come from situations of poverty, homelessness, runaways, or from small rural villages.

Fact: Although poverty, homelessness and runaway status are factors in human trafficking because it puts the victims in a more vulnerable position, those alone are not causal factors or universal indicators of a human trafficking victim. Although, about 55% of prostituted men and women were initially runaway youth, there are other factors that lead to vulnerability. Individuals who have experienced violence and trauma; domestic violence, sexual assault, social discrimination, war and conflict, in the past are more vulnerable to being exploited. Given this information, on the other side, trafficking victims come from a range of socioeconomic levels, and even families from higher incomes and very good communities are vulnerable to exploitation as well.

10. Myth: There must be elements of physical restraint, physical force, or physical bondage when identifying a human trafficking situation.

Fact: Trafficking of any kind does not need physical restraint, force or bondage to be considered a criminal act. There are many situations where children are exploited in the labor force. They go to “work” every day and do what they are told, and continue to do so just by a threat of harm, or the threat of not providing for their family, or shame. Children especially are more susceptible to psychological control, threats, fraud, brain washing and other forms of coercion. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 initially addressed more subtle forms of control that did not include bodily harm. The newer acts go even further in protecting victims and provide harsher punishments for the perpetrator.

  • Sources

Trafficking Resource Center:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security:


Shared Hope International:

Human Trafficking Center:


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