10 Common Myths About Human Trafficking
By Danielle Ball
I recently attended a panel discussion on human trafficking, where I gained a better understanding of what human trafficking is and how it occurs in our own community. On the panel sat Kristin DiAngelo, Co-Founder of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Sacramento, Nilda Valmores, Executive Director for My Sister’s House, and Terri Galvan, Executive Director of Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH). Just minutes into our discussion, I realized that much of the information I thought I knew about human trafficking was incorrect. Although this is a prevalent problem in our area, a lot of my facts had been gleaned in passing from conversations or brief articles. I’d never had the opportunity to hear from victims or experts in the field. With the Super Bowl putting a spotlight on human trafficking in the Bay Area, I can’t think of a better time to start talking about this topic.
So below, I give you some of the top myths that were busted during that panel discussion:
1) MYTH: Most prostitutes enter the trade by choice.
TRUTH: The majority of people selling sex are doing so out of desperation. They may have children to support or prior arrests that prevent them from getting a job. When the rent is due and they need to put food on the table, some are tempted to make use of a readily available asset.
2) MYTH: It’s easy to quit.
TRUTH: As Kristen DiAngelo, Co-Founder of SWOP Sacramento, stated, “There is no 911…(for victims.)” Many times victims cannot report trafficking activity without implicating themselves in a crime. In addition, many women state that the same people who are sent to protect them end up re-victimizing them. There’ sometimes a tit for tat agenda, where law enforcement will look the other way on prostitution charges if the victim agrees to perform services for them.
3) MYTH: Only women are used in the sex trade.
TRUTH: Although women are prominent victims, any vulnerable group can can become victims. Law enforcement is seeing an increase in LGBT victims, and in children. Recent immigrants are also vulnerable as they often have a language barrier and may not know where to go for help.
4) MYTH: In order to be considered a victim of trafficking, you must cross state lines.
TRUTH: A recent study by the U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as,
“a. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- 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. “
There is no need to cross state or international borders to meet this definition.
5) MYTH: Most victims are trafficked by strangers.
TRUTH: The majority of victims are trafficked by someone they know. The trafficker may play many roles in a victim’s life. They are sometimes romantic partners, bosses, or even a family member. Many international trafficking victims accept a job in another country only to arrive and find that they’ve been sold in forced labor or sexual slavery.
6) MYTH: This only happens in other countries.
TRUTH: According to WEAVE, the United States is one of the top destinations for human trafficking. Sacramento is especially attractive to traffickers because of the easy access to interstates 50 and 80, and the proximity to Reno and San Francisco. In addition, the diversity of the city helps them to blend in and avoid suspicion.
7) MYTH: Women are abducted into this trade.
TRUTH: DiAngelo noted that, on a recent outreach trip, 48% of women asked identified as being trafficked, although only one of those women stated that she had entered the sex trade against her will. Many victims begin selling sex out of desperation, then fall victim to trafficking later.
8) MYTH: Traffickers are large operations or part of organized crime.
TRUTH: Although there is evidence that major crime organizations participate in trafficking, individuals are also perpetrators. Trafficking is more lucrative than gun or drug sales because you can only sell those once, but you can sell a person thousands of times.
9) MYTH: If we arrest the traffickers, the problem is solved.
TRUTH: Arresting the traffickers is step one, but more must be done to help the victims. If they’re put back onto the streets, they’re likely to fall victim to trafficking again. At this time, there are not many resources for victims. There are only six stay beds for victims from here to Reno. (That’s not a mistake, that number is 6.) Victims need access to counseling, job assistance, and housing. Many times they may not even have id as their trafficker often takes it as a means of control.
10) MYTH: This is terrible, but it’s not my job to stop it.
TRUTH: To eradicate this from our community, we all need to get involved. Write to lawmakers, do your own research, and support those who are providing help. Nothing will change if we continue to ignore it. If you want to make a difference locally, My Sister’s House is hosting their 8th Annual Intersections of Human Trafficking Conference on February 24th at CSUS. For more information, or to help sponsor this event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.