Human Trafficking: Perception Vs. Reality


Public’s Perception of Modern Slavery Vs. Reality:

Sex Trafficking is usually thought of by society in a way that is both naive and harmful in that it allows real sex traffickers to fly under the radar, undetected, due to stereotypes and common portrayals of sex workers and traffickers in movies and on TV.

To successfully combat human trafficking, we must first begin by educating the public, raising awareness and training them to recognize signs of trafficking when they see them. Americans’ views of human trafficking are all too often informed by Hollywood and the media and not by reality. No matter what you may have seen in the movies, traffickers are usually not dressed as flamboyant pimps. More often they are trying not to attract attention. The victims of sex trafficking, in turn, do not often resemble Julia Roberts in an expensive nightgown. And buyers are rarely if ever lonely, harmless men in need of company—they may be lonely, but by extracting sex from victims of trafficking, they are certainly not harmless. They prioritize their own pleasure above the well-being of their victims.

Media stereotypes aside, the reality is that traffickers are extremely dangerous people who kidnap and imprison victims and then use deceit, punishment, and torture to rent the victims’ bodies for the traffickers’ profit. Victims’ mental and physical health matter little to traffickers because victims are disposable and replaceable. Victims are treated as products marketed to anyone willing to pay to use them for their own personal satisfaction. The buyers, in turn, are often unstable, dangerous men looking to fulfill sadistic, illegal pleasures not available by other means. Given the dangers to which they are exposed and the minimal concern for their welfare, victims have only a seven-year life expectancy after entering sex trafficking. Female victims account for the highest homicide rate of any set of women ever studied.

Critically, and again in contrast to popular perception, these victims are not just poor women from the other side of the world. They are the sons and daughters of rich and poor families of all ethnicity and all walks of life. It is estimated that 1.6 million American juveniles run away or are kicked out of their homes each year. These runaways are typically approached by a trafficker within the first two days they are on their own, rendering them highly vulnerable. According to the Justice Department, as many as 300,000 American children may become victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year.

How Human Traffickers Operate Today:

Because of public misconceptions about the realities of sex trafficking, however, all too often it goes undetected even when it happens right out in the open. Training and education can change that. For example, though a man in jeans and a T-shirt may not look like a pimp, he may well be a trafficker. Sex trafficking is not limited to inner-city streets or alleyways, and meet-ups are rarely by a woman leaning through a car window. Even voluntary prostitution is seldom arranged on the street, where risks and exposure are high. Instead, the commercial sex trade now operates largely via the Internet, with buyers typically meeting trafficking victims at hotels. Thanks to easy Internet access and readily available private hotel rooms, buyers prefer to make their meeting arrangements centered around hotels.

Unfortunately, most Americans—even those working in the hospitality industry—are unaware that hotels are now the primary point of sale for the commercial sex industry. Public education is important. As a starting point, though, lawmakers have recently imposed training and education requirements on those who work in the hospitality industry because they are in the best position to recognize and prevent it.

The Takeaways:

  • Traffickers, contrary to popular opinion, do not adhere to the stereotypes in movies and are most often not dressed as flamboyant pimps, but tend to blend in and not attract attention to themselves.
  • Sex trafficking is devastating and dangerous for the victim. The average life expectancy for a newly introduced trafficked sex-worker is seven years.
  • As many as 300,000 American children are trafficked each year within the US.
  • The commercial sex trade now operates via the internet and uses private hotel rooms as the staging area for their crimes.
  • Laws have recently been passed that mandate training for hotel staff and hospitality industry workers to help combat this problem.

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