Busting Human Trafficking Myths

This blog is co-authored by co-authored by Tori Schaulis, Communications Manager for the Dressember Foundation, a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to victims and survivors of human trafficking. United Way Worldwide is honored to partner with Dressember to elevate the issues around human trafficking.

As we commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, it is important to promote a true, authentic narrative about trafficking and who it impacts most. Human trafficking is a grave injustice and a growing $150 billion dollar industry, but it does not happen inside a bubble. This issue intersects with various other system injustices and inequities.  Trafficking disproportionately impacts marginalized groups, and it happens both around the world as well as in our own cities.  Human trafficking is illegal in every country, yet it happens everywhere.

When we (intentionally or unintentionally) perpetuate false narratives about trafficking, we fail to center the actual survivors and victims, the people directly impacted by the issue.  The spread of misinformation and myths around this issue has had damaging effects on the anti-human trafficking movement in the past, so this July 30th, Dressember and United Way’s Center to Combat Human Trafficking have come together to highlight truth and dispel some of the most popular myths related to this issue.

  • Myth 1: “Human trafficking only happens on the other side of the world.”
  • Truth 1: Even though it is illegal, human trafficking happens in all countries around the world.

Human trafficking occurs in every country around the world. Of the $150 billion in profit annually worldwide, almost one-third of that (US $47 billion) is generated entirely from trafficking in developed nations, namely those in the European Union and the United States.

According to The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline report published by Polaris, over 22,000 victims were identified in the United States in 2019 alone. This number only includes those who called the hotline, but we know that many people do not feel safe to call or may not be in a position to advocate for themselves. Some trafficked individuals have been so thoroughly manipulated that they do not self-identify as a victim of this crime or recognize that they have rights. Others fear retribution from their trafficker or are trapped by their lack of identification documents.

  • Myth 2: “Everyone is equally at risk of trafficking.”
  • Truth 2: System injustices create more vulnerability to trafficking for some communities than others.

Last summer around World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, many social media posts went viral warning (predominantly white) parents about the dangers of kidnapping and trafficking in parking lots.

Statistically, the people impacted most by trafficking are not affluent white children.  As trafficking does not occur within a vacuum, systemic injustices like racism, homophobia, sexism, economic inequality, and more lead some communities to face more risk of trafficking than others.  Lack of access to education, health care, and financial stability are root causes that limit opportunity and create systemic vulnerabilities.

For example, recent research from Polaris found “the economic fallout of racism is the most direct connection between why people of color are more likely to be trafficked” than their white counterparts.  A study from Thorn says “family rejection, lack of support systems, and financial challenges each offer heightened opportunities for traffickers to step in and exploit LGBTQ+ youth.”  And, a 2017 survey of young people who accessed services from Covenant House showed that roughly “one-fifth of surveyed homeless youth in the United States and Canada are victims of human trafficking.” 

Many other systemic injustices also create increased risk of human trafficking.  Because of this, intersectional awareness of the issue is key to preventing it.  Changing existing structures and systems that are creating inequities and injustices will require a coordinated approach that includes a wide array of stakeholders.

  • Myth 3: “All human trafficking is sex trafficking of young women.”
  • Truth 3: Labor trafficking is more prevalent than sex trafficking, and men and boys are also affected.

Experts have found that labor trafficking is more prevalent than sex trafficking, though public awareness of sex trafficking is often more common.  The latest Global Slavery Index found that roughly 40.3 million people in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage.  Data suggests that of the 24.9 million people in forced labor, roughly 16 million are victims of labor trafficking in private industry, 4.8 million are victims of sex trafficking, and 4.1 million are victims of state-imposed forced labor.

Research has also shown that women and girls are indeed disproportionately affected by human trafficking, but men and boys are forced into both labor and sex trafficking as well.  Experts estimate roughly 30 percent of individuals in active trafficking situations today — approximately 12 million people worldwide — are men or boys. Unfortunately, these victims are less likely to be reported, especially in sex trafficking situations.

  • Myth 4: “There’s nothing I can do about human trafficking.”
  • Truth 4: Human trafficking is an issue that affects everyone, and we all have the power to combat it.

There are many things you can do to join the movement to combat human trafficking exactly where you are! Our daily lives constantly bring us all into contact with this issue, whether through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, or the people we pass on the street. 

Research the issue by utilizing resources from reputable organizations and agencies, and share truthful, accurate information with others.  Investigate the supply chains of the items you purchase and make the decision to become a conscious consumer.

Lastly, this year the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is set to expire and must be reauthorized.  Call or write to your member of Congress today to voice your support of the reauthorization recommendations put out by the Alliance to End Trafficking and Slavery (ATEST).

Take the pledge today!  Commit to educating yourself about human trafficking and join the movement to combat it by spreading only truthful information from reputable sources, and pledge to take action against this injustice.

World Day Against Trafficking Pledge:

I will use my voice, position, and privilege to take a stand against trafficking in all forms. I will educate myself on the issue by turning to reputable sources and movement experts.  I will share only accurate information and do my part to stop the spread of misinformation.  I will take action against human trafficking by considering my purchasing choices, and contacting my member of Congress.