Human trafficking is described as a “silent epidemic” because so many are unaware of the scope of the trafficking problem. Those who are aware of human trafficking often have significant misconceptions regarding what it entails, who is targeted, and what trafficking looks like. Understanding the realities of human trafficking is important for prevention, and to avoid unintentional involvement in the practice of human trafficking.
Myths and Misconceptions About Human Trafficking
One of the most significant myths about human trafficking is that it does not occur within the United States and it does not affect people within the United States. The Department of Justice indicates more than 17,000 people each year are trafficked into the United States annually. The majority of individuals who are trafficked for sex in this country- 83 percent- are citizens of the United States.
While many victims of sex trafficking are female, it would be a misconception to believe only girls and women are vulnerable to being trafficked for sex. Boys as well as girls are targeted by sex traffickers, and individuals of all ages and ethnicities may become victims. Young people are the most likely targets. The average age at which a victim becomes a target of a sex trafficker is between 11 and 14.
Often, children are not aware they are being manipulated by someone they have met in their neighborhood or someone who has approached them. Those who solicit children into sex trafficking frequently gain the trust of their victims, avoiding any type of sexual advances that could arouse suspicion. The sex traffickers do not resemble pimps or the stereotypical cultural idea of a trafficker, and so are not recognized for their predatory nature. Instead, they appear to behave normally, they manipulate children and they slowly make the children afraid, while parents remain unaware their children are being targeted until it is too late.
While many believe that only poor individuals are victims of trafficking, this is a dangerous and pervasive myth. The reality is the wealthy and the poor alike are targeted by traffickers. However, individuals of different income levels are targeted for different types of trafficking. While wealthy and poor children alike may become victims of sex traffickers, lower-income individuals and particularly immigrants are more likely to become trafficking victims through the process of debt manipulation.
Debt manipulation is a common approach to forcing workers to work for low, or no, wages. Another misconception is that trafficking occurs only or primarily for sexual purposes. Labor trafficking is also a significant issue, particularly for immigrants. In the United States, 67 percent of victims of labor trafficking are undocumented immigrations an an additional 28 percent are immigrants with legal status who are still being trafficked.
Debt manipulation is one way these immigrants become trafficking victims. Individuals are forced to borrow large sums of money to cover the cost of coming to the United States, and workers are forced to borrow large sums to cover the cost of job placement or recruitment. Sometimes, it takes years for the workers to repay their debt, and they are paid no wages or little money during this time.
Labor trafficking can sometimes be a gateway to sex trafficking as well. Workers who take jobs in isolated locations may find themselves being forced into prostitution to repay the costs of their immigration to the U.S. or to repay the costs of their job placement or recruitment.
It is important to understand all of the true facts about human trafficking, and to know the laws that apply to punish traffickers and protect victims. An experienced attorney with experience in human trafficking can provide additional information on trafficking laws within the United States.