Human trafficking, as defined by the United States Department of Justice, is 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.”
As people become more aware of human trafficking in America, it’s important to address some common misconceptions.
Human trafficking only happens in 3rd world countries overseas
The reality is that human trafficking is happening here right in the United States, to American citizens by American citizens, at a higher rate than women and children being trafficked into the United States from other countries.
Human trafficking only happens across the border or at the border
Human trafficking is happening in every city, in every state of the United States. It is happening at the hotel that you drive by on the way to work. It is happening to the girl you see buying snacks at the convenience store. It is all around you. And sometimes, if you don’t know what you’re seeing, or you choose not to see it happening, you believe it’s not happening, but it is.
Human trafficking victims are sent to the United States via shipping containers
When people often hear the words “human trafficking,” they believe the myth that human trafficking consists of women being shoved into shipping containers from third world countries, brought to the United States ports, and then distributed throughout the country. The reality is that they are already here in the United States, and they’re American citizens.
It’s the girl that went missing a few years back and her picture is still up on the wall of the supermarket. It’s the girl that was the runaway, who got mad at her parents and was never heard of again. It’s the child that you saw on the news last week. It’s not always what you see in the movies.
The common image of human trafficking victims with their hands tied
When people think “human trafficking,” they think about girls that are bound in chains or in handcuffs or being shoved into vehicles, being lured away and snatched off the streets. But that’s not necessarily how it happens. Victims can be groomed for months and months, on social media or in the workplace or lured away at a nightclub. It’s happening right under their noses, and they don’t know how it’s happening.
Human trafficking is a form of manipulation. The chains on human trafficking victims are invisible. Whether it be fraud, force, or coercion, human trafficking victims may look like they’re doing things because they want to do it, but in truth, they’re being forced to do what they’re doing. You can’t see it, because the manipulation is happening mentally.
Human trafficking only affects women
A lot of people believe that human trafficking only affects women, but there is a percentage that also affects men. Young boys can also be victims of human trafficking, as well as gender minorities. A human trafficker doesn’t discriminate based on sex or race, what potential victims look like, or where they’re from. They look at people like a product that they can sell over and over and over again to make a profit.
There is one centralized organization fighting human trafficking
We have a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. We have a Drug Enforcement Administration. We have Homeland Security. But we do not have a Counter Human Trafficking Agency. Although there are many independent organizations and task forces aimed at fighting human trafficking, there is still not a central organization to combat trafficking nationwide. Jurisdictions differ from state to state and county to county, and departments often don’t have the means to facilitate the exchange of information. In its 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, the United States State Department listed several factors that can disrupt the data collection and management in the fight against human trafficking.
Fighting human trafficking is going to take all of us, and that means having a better and more accurate understanding and awareness of what human trafficking in the United States entails.