In order to be effective activists, we need to have our facts straight. As sex trafficking has become an increasingly popular cause, the amount of misleading information regarding sex trafficking has increased as well.
Part of this stems from the way that trafficking is talked about and portrayed in popular culture, and part of it is due to the fact that there is a lack of widespread and coordinated research on sex trafficking in the United States. Truly reliable statistics are difficult to come by. Most statistics on sex trafficking come from relatively small data sets and incomplete studies, and because of this there can be wild variations within the facts that many organizations share.
We’ve put together a list of some common misconceptions about sex trafficking that we’ve observed… have you seen trafficking portrayed like this?
Trafficking is “kidnapping” and girls are transported and sold through a hidden market, like drugs.
Blame Hollywood for this misconception--or perhaps the fact that the term “sex trafficking” mirrors the term “drug trafficking”, which does involve lots of smuggling of “goods”. Though some kidnapping does occur in a number of human trafficking cases, it’s not the norm and sex trafficking is far more pervasive and out-in-the-open than you’d think!
Trafficking Victims in the USA fit a certain profile.
Thanks to the way that trafficking has been portrayed in, and even in the marketing materials of some anti-trafficking groups, there’s definitely a “type” presented for how we should expect a person affected by trafficking to look. Young, usually a victim of childhood abuse, usually a woman of color. Though factors like homelessness, poverty, sexual orientation, race, or a history of sexual abuse do increase a person’s risk factor, pieces of research like this roundup of information on callers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline show us that it’s not a good idea to assume that we know who is being trafficked are or what their background may be. Those affected by trafficking in the USA are both men and women, US-born citizens and foreigners/immigrants, persons affected by poverty and persons from well-to-do communities. Though they aren’t often the “face” of sex trafficking, Native American women and LGBTQ youth are two of the groups most strongly affected by sex trafficking.
There’s always force or coercion when a person is “recruited” for sex trafficking.
“Recruiting” someone for the purpose of sex trafficking can definitely involve violence, gang rape, torture, and kidnapping. However, it’s more common for the recruitment process to take the form of a grooming period involving “love” and affection on the part of the trafficker. Trafficking isn’t vans with tinted windows screeching into allies and throwing unsuspecting women inside… in approximately 54% of human trafficking cases, the recruiter is a stranger, but in 46% of cases, the recruiters know the victim.
Minors are trafficked, adults make a choice.
Here’s a weird thing that happens when we talk about sex trafficking in the United States: anyone under the age of 18 is a victim, and those over the age of 18 are not. The reasoning behind this is that once a person is a legal adult, they’re making a choice to be involved with trafficking- which is far from the reality of sexual exploitation! Sex trafficking is a continuum of abuse and exploitation that doesn’t magically become a choice at a certain age.
Trafficking happens overseas. What happens in the USA is prostitution.
When we look closely at the dynamics of both prostitution and sex trafficking, we find that both forms of commercial sexual exploitation depend on the same cycle of abuse and control by an exploiter. In addition, both prostitution and sex trafficking result in extreme sexual violence toward women. Most researchers and anti-trafficking experts maintain that pimp-controlled prostitution is indistinguishable from trafficking.