In the work we do, we hear a lot from people about what they think sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are. Human trafficking is a very trending issue right now, and we have been so encouraged to see pastors, celebrities, and government leaders take a stand against the injustice of human trafficking. While much of what we hear about this injustice is accurate, we also hear several misconceptions, myths, and occasionally blatant falsities regarding the reality of sex trafficking and what survivors endure. Based on our research as well as our own anecdotal experiences as an organization, we want to share our Top 5 Myths of Sex Trafficking. We hope this blog post is helpful to you and your circle as we all continue to educate ourselves more on the realities of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
#1: Being involved in the sex industry is a "choice."
This is probably the most common myth we hear. It is a frequent misconception that those involved in the sex industry enter it by their own volition. This is simply not true for the women we serve or trafficking survivors worldwide. The average age of entry into sex trafficking and sexual exploitation for the women we serve is 5 - 17 years old. This means, by definition, nearly all of the women we serve were initially trafficked before they were even old enough to consent to sex. Why do we think this is important to share? Because for the women we serve, their "choice" was stolen for them before they could even make an adult decision. By the time these women became adults, they were carrying years of unresolved complex sexual trauma with them everywhere they went, unable to heal or get out of the lifestyle they had been forced into. Therefore, it is inaccurate and cruel to shame them for "choosing" the sex industry.
#2. Trafficking victims are always physically locked up or assaulted by their trafficker.
It's something we've probably all seen at this point: the image of a young girl with a piece of tape over her mouth, visible terror in her eyes, and her arms bound with rope or chains. While we are not dismissing that this sometimes happens in trafficking cases, we can say with confidence that this situation is not the norm. More times than not, survivors are bound emotionally and psychologically to their traffickers. The requirement to prove a sex trafficking case is if an alleged perpetrator used force, fraud or coercion to compel a victim to act against his or her will.* Fraud and coercion are both non-physical means that a trafficker can utilize to keep victims trapped. It's important to understand this factor when we are identifying potential victims of sex trafficking, so we can be more targeted in finding the right indicators.
#3. Trafficking only happens to people from that _______ (insert "bad" neighborhood, geographical area, country, state, etc.)
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking cases occurred in every single state in the U.S. in 2019.* This is not a crime that only happens in economically poor countries and crime-ridden neighborhoods. This does not only happen to immigrants. The women we serve have all been born in the U.S., grew up in the U.S., and were trafficked/exploited in the U.S. This is happening everywhere - from highway motels to country clubs. We have worked with women from diverse races, socioeconomic statuses, religions, backgrounds, and careers. When we assume that trafficking only happens in communities other than our own, we subconsciously put blinders over our eyes to only see the things we want to see. We end up turning a blind eye to the injustices closest to our homes, churches, and places of work. We cannot reach and restore lives if we are not even aware of the local problem around us.
#4. The porn industry has nothing to do with sex trafficking.
Out of the 3,258 reported sex trafficking cases in the U.S., almost one out of four cases were pornography-related trafficking. Rescue: Freedom, a global anti-trafficking nonprofit working in nine different countries, states that 49% of women being sold for sex had pornography made of them while they were being exploited.* In learning from the experiences of the women we serve, traffickers have videotaped women while performing sex acts to prevent them from ever leaving, in the fear that the traffickers would share the footage with the women's friends, family, employer, and others. Traffickers use this footage to also sell their victims online, as the sex trafficking industry continues to expand through online means. When you go to view pornography online, you have no way of guaranteeing that those involved in the footage you watch did so consensually. Simply put, pornography fuels sex trafficking, and sex trafficking fuels pornography.
#5. If prostitution were legal, sex trafficking would decrease.
When women are trapped in sex trafficking, they are at risk of being charged for prostitution by law enforcement officers unable to identify them. So, some people's natural response to solving this problem is to legalize prostitution. After all, if you make it possible for women to not be punished for being trapped in exploitation, then shouldn't it be easier to monitor the sex industry, thus being able to better identify victims of trafficking? In reality, no. Legalizing prostitution only makes the line between consensual prostitution and sex trafficking blurrier. If prostitution is legal, it is much more difficult to identify women that are working against their will versus women that are doing it voluntarily. Studies show that legalizing prostitution in Europe did not create a decrease in sex trafficking cases, but has continued to aid the growth of sex trafficking. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, 50-90% of women in the licensed prostitution industry were working "involuntarily."* This means that even when women are working in a legal industry, they are likely being illegally exploited by a trafficker within that industry.