12 Rumors about Sex Trafficking and 12 Truths
When you hear the words “sex trafficking” what flashes through your mind? Do you see young children locked in cages? Do you see foreign women tied up with rope? Do you see Liam Neesson coming to the rescue?
The types of scenarios you likely just imagined can happen, however, they are rare and most often happen overseas. When we are talking about domestic sex trafficking it is crucial that we remove whatever perception we hold about this crime and replace it with facts. Once you understand the realities of how domestic sex trafficking happens it will increase your ability to recognize it.
We have all seen the social media posts about some new method sex traffickers are using to kidnap and sell their victims, from zip ties to markings on cars, to expensive cabinet purchases. These posts lead to fear and hysteria as they are rapidly shared over and over by usually well-meaning individuals. However, these posts also lead to an inundation of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and distract from those that need help.
It is crucial that before you hit the share button you do a little bit of fact checking to see if this rumor is more than just that… a rumor. While there is no one way that people are trafficked, there are common methods traffickers use and understanding these tactics will help weed out the rumors and allow for victims that need help to receive it.
12 Rumors about Sex Trafficking and 12 Truths
Rumor 1: Sex traffickers mark vehicles of potential victims in parking lots with either zip ties or other code.
Truth: Traffickers kidnapping their victims is a widely believed misconception and this specific method of marking vehicles has been proven false. Yes, kidnapping happens however, it is much more prevalent for a trafficker to build a relationship with their victim and utilize psychological manipulation to gain control. Read more about this common form of assessment, recruitment and grooming here.
Rumor 2: Sex traffickers use white passenger vans with multiple external locks or bared windows to kidnap their victims.
Truth: In the same way there is no profile of a sex trafficker there is also no profile of the vehicles they drive. Commercial vans using locks and bars to protect the tools or other equipment they are transporting is not uncommon. It is important to report the vehicle type and plate number in any situation you believe may be trafficking related but please do not assume if the vehicle is not a white van, then it is not trafficking.
Rumor 3: Victims of trafficking are always physically held against their will, tied up or locked up in some manner.
Truth: While this does happen on occasion, most traffickers use some form of force, fraud, or coercion to gain control over their victims. Most often this is not ropes, chains or locks, instead it is threats of violence, control over a victim’s child, or a false promise used to maintain control.
For example, if you tell a woman that she has to do what you say or you will harm her child or her little sister, most often she will do as asked for fear of you bringing that harm to her loved one. Repeated exposure to violence and threats will make every threat very real to a victim. Think of these threats more like invisible ropes and chains.
Rumor 4: Commercial sex trafficking only happens on the deep dark web.
Truth: Commercial sex trafficking is not only hidden deep on the internet; it is most often found on the surface web. Traffickers treat their crime like a business, they are selling a product and must connect with a buyer, this is much easier to do when your product can be easily found. With 150,000 new escort ads posted daily (source) purchasing someone for sex is about as easy as ordering anything else online.
Rumor 5: Most victims of trafficking in the United States are undocumented foreign nationals.
Truth: Yes, trafficking happens to undocumented foreign nationals, however, it is estimated that the majority of US victims are citizens or here legally. We believe that it does not matter where you were born, a human is a human and should never be sold like a product. However, this stat does show that no person is immune. This crime is affecting American women and children at an alarming rate.
Rumor 6: Buyers of sex are always the scary strangers our parents warned us about as kids.
Truth: Buyers can be anyone. There is no profile for a buyer, they come from every race, socioeconomic status and age. The only linking factor is if someone is a high frequency buyer (purchases on a regular basis), they most often make $100,000 or more a year (source).
Rumor 7: Traffickers always kidnap their victims.
Truth: This can happen; however, it is more common for traffickers to build some type of relationship with their victim prior. They look for a vulnerability they can exploit and manipulate. This will happen in-person or online. The internet has made it easier for traffickers to look for vulnerabilities in young people at a much higher rate. Most can find someone to exploit from the comfort of their own living room. The predator then builds a relationship with these young vulnerable children over the internet and then most willingly go to meet them in-person.
Rumor 8: Trafficking only happens to girls.
Truth: Trafficking happens to anyone! The numbers around this crime and its rates among the male population are harder to find because, like any sexual assault in the male population it often goes unreported. However, we do know that it is happening, and boys are at risk.
Rumor 9: Trafficking only happens to those young people that have runaway, are in foster care or have a drug problem.
Truth: While the runaway population and those in foster care are at higher risk for being trafficked, it does not mean everyone else is immune. Traffickers are looking for a vulnerability and they will exploit whomever they can see that vulnerability in regardless of their situation. We encounter numerous survivors that came from solid homes and are well educated.
Rumor 10: Trafficking only happens in seedy motels.
Truth: Trafficking happens in all hotels. Buyers are purchasing a fantasy and that fantasy often does not take place at some seedy motel where they feel they are committing a crime.
Rumor 11: If I see a potential victim of trafficking they will be with a male trafficker.
Truth: Traffickers often utilize other females they have control over to help them recruit and control their newest victims. This role is called the “Bottom Bitch” or “Bottom”. Meaning you may in fact see a victim with another female.
Rumor 12: She is choosing this life.
Truth: Her trafficker has something he is using to control her. It may be that he is holding her child until she makes the money, he has told her to make each day. It may be that he has threatened her with physical violence and often time she has experienced that violence already or seen him be violent with someone else, making this threat enough to maintain control over her.
Often our perception of the best recovery method for victims of trafficking is off as well. It seems like kicking in some hotel room door Liam Neeson style and saving her from this horrible abuser is the right move, however, that often isn’t the case. Unless the trafficker is arrested, the threat is gone, or her child is safe she is going to remain in a fearful survival mode and often time will not speak out against her trafficker.
Trafficking cases are tricky, complicated and often messy. This is where Guardian Group’s support to Law Enforcement is incredibly vital. The more information we can help provide to these resource-constrained officers the greater their ability to provide recovery in the right manner.
3 Ways to Join Guardian Group and help Stop Sex Trafficking
Donate your Time and Expertise: Put your OSINT skills to work for good and become a volunteer with Project 1591.
Join Team 1591: Inspired by the law that protects children from being sold for sex Team 1591 is made up a group of committed individuals all giving at least $15.91 a month. For less than a Netflix account this team of people is changing the trajectory of sex trafficking across the nation. Join the team here.
Connect us to Law Enforcement: Our free research support to law enforcement across the country is helping officers increase their proactive approach to countering sex trafficking. Share this resource with all active law enforcement that you know.