Sex Trafficking: Myths vs. Facts

When you hear the words “sex trafficking” what flashes through your mind? Do you see young children arriving in shipping containers? Do you see foreign women tied up with rope? Do you see Liam Neeson type figure coming to the rescue?

The types of scenarios you likely just imagined can happen, however, they are rare. It is crucial that we remove whatever perception we hold about sex trafficking and replace it with facts. Once you understand the realities of this crime it will increase your ability to be able to see it happening in real time. Most often this crime happens in plain sight.

Myth vs. Fact

Myth 1: Commercial sex trafficking only happens on the deep dark web.

Fact: Commercial sex trafficking is 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 purchasing someone for sex is about as easy as ordering anything else online (1). The deep dark web does host trafficking; however, it is not limited to these corners of the internet.

Myth 2: Victims of trafficking are always physically held against their will, tied up or locked up in some manner.

Fact: 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 to maintain control.

For example, if you tell a woman that she must do what you say or you will harm someone she loves, most often she will do as asked for fear of you bringing that harm to her loved one. Repeated exposure to violence and threats that are followed through on will make every threat thereafter very real to a victim. Think of these threats more like invisible ropes and chains.

Myth 3: Most victims of trafficking in the United States are undocumented foreign nationals.

Fact: It is estimated that the majority of US victims are citizens or are in the States legally (2). 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, and it not just reserved for foreign nationals.

Myth 4: Buyers of sex are always the scary strangers our parents warned us about as kids.

Fact: 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, they most often make $100,000 or more a year (3).

Myth 5: Traffickers always kidnap their victims.

Fact: Eighty-five percent of survivors report having a close relationship with their trafficker (1). It is more common for traffickers to build some type of relationship with their victim prior to exploiting them. Traffickers look in-person or online for indicators of a vulnerability they can exploit and manipulate and use to control their victims. 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. Kidnapping does happen; however, it is not the norm.

Myth 6: Trafficking only happens to girls.

Fact: Trafficking happens to anyone! The accurate numbers around this crime and its rates among the male and transgender populations are harder to find because, like any sexual assault in these populations it often goes underreported. However, we do know that it is happening, and everyone is at risk.

Myth 7: Trafficking only happens to those young people that have run away, are in foster care or have a drug problem.

Fact: 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 Those that have run away or have interacted with the child welfare system are at a higher risk because of these vulnerabilities. However, we encounter numerous survivors that came from solid homes and are well educated.

Myth 8: Trafficking only happens in seedy motels.

Fact: 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.

Myth 9: If I see a potential victim of trafficking they will be with a male trafficker.

Fact: 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 being controlled by another female. Traffickers also come from all walks of life, meaning there are women out there that do traffic other women and children.

Myth 10: She is choosing this life.

Fact: Her trafficker has something they are using to control her. It may be that they are holding her child until she earns whatever quota she has been given. It may be that they have 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 is not 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 free support to law enforcement is incredibly vital. The more Publicly Available Information we can gather and provide to these resource-constrained officers the greater their ability to provide recovery in the right manner. The information contained in our Publicly Available Information Reports (PAIR) saves officers valuable time and resources. When Guardian Group does the Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) work to create the PAIR it removes this tedious burden off law enforcement and frees them up to do the things only law enforcement can do, warrants and subpoenas, faster. Resulting in law enforcement’s ability to take action faster.


Get Involved

Now that you know the realities behind this horrific crime, there are two simple ways to get involved in stopping this evil.

Become a member of Team 1591: The goal of Team 1591 is to rally 5,240 people all giving at least $15.91 every month. With this amount of sustainable funding generated our internal Analysis Team will be able to generate a minimum of 2,300 PAIR reports for law enforcement across the nation annually. 

Team 1591  

Volunteer with Project 1591. As a volunteer you can use your own OSINT skills to help develop PAIR reports for law enforcement. Learn more about what it takes and sign up to help.

Volunteer Today

It is a myth that human trafficking does not happen here in the Untied States and now that you know the facts it is time to take action and join the effort to stop this atrocious crime.




  1. Thorn (2018, January). Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking [PDF].
  2. Demand Abolition (2018). Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Market Demand. [PDF].


  1. U.S. Department of State. (2023, September 15). 2023 trafficking in persons report – united states department of state. U.S. Department of State.