Human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity, following only drug and arms trafficking. An estimated 9.5 billion is generated in annual revenue from all trafficking activities, with at least $4 billion attributed to the worldwide brothel industry. (U.S. Department of State. 2004. Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State) Despite how prevalent trafficking is, countless misconceptions surround this crime. Here are 3 of the most common myths about human trafficking.
Myth #1: “Sex Trafficking Is the Most Common Form of Human Trafficking”
One of the biggest myths about human trafficking is that it is synonymous with sex trafficking. Contrary to popular belief, slavery takes many forms and sex trafficking only accounts for about one-fourth of all human trafficking cases. The most common form of human slavery is actually labor trafficking.
In 2017, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation estimated that, of the 24.9 million human trafficking victims, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and an estimated 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor. Sadly, trafficking experts say those numbers have grown significantly since the pandemic.
Stephanie Hepburn, journalist, and author of Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight explains that by not recognizing how big a problem labor trafficking is, we actually perpetuate the problem. She says:
“Worldwide, forced labor is generally acknowledged in domestic laws, but adequate training, identification, and enforcement is often still lacking. This includes the United States. The reason journalists and even anti-trafficking experts don’t mention it is because the anti-trafficking focus in the U.S. is predominantly on sex trafficking. This means that forced labor related to mega sporting events is not on the radar of law enforcement, policy makers, and society as a whole, which makes it an ideal opportunity for unscrupulous people to come in and take advantage. It also means that while law enforcement is on full alert regarding sex trafficking and funds are spent on large billboards and PSAs once a year to highlight one exploitative purpose, other forms of forced labor—for example, in construction, transportation, and at restaurants and hotels—remain in the shadows. Holistic dialogue regarding modern slavery is the only way to work to eliminate it.”Source: Huffpost.com
Myth #2: “Human Traffickers Are Typically Total Strangers”
News headlines typically frame human trafficking as something that occurs between two strangers or non-related individuals. Headlines may read, “man lures young girls into the porn industry via social media” or “teacher arrested for trafficking children.” But familial trafficking–that is, trafficking that is instigated or perpetrated by family members of the victim(s)–is extremely common.
In 2017, IOM (International Organization for Migration) estimated that 41 percent of child trafficking experiences are facilitated by family members and/or caregivers. In cases of familial trafficking, the victim usually falls prey because they trust the person who is exploiting them. Their trust blinds them to the reality that their dad, mom, uncle, or whoever doesn’t have their best interest at heart and doesn’t, in fact, love them.
Myth #3: “Trafficking Is Not as Much of a Problem Here in the U.S.”
Some people think that human trafficking isn’t as big of a problem here in the U.S. as it is in other countries, but we cannot stress this enough: human trafficking is a local problem too. It happens at the border. It happens in salons and schools. It may even be happening in your neighborhood. The United States isn’t exempt from the horrors of human trafficking, and law enforcement agencies and advocates are working hard to fight this crime locally and internationally.
The U.S. Department of State says the pandemic has “exacerbated the vulnerabilities of millions of individuals and adversely affected efforts to combat human trafficking.” Never has the need to fight human trafficking been more pressing than it is now.