Sex Trafficking Myths

When you sit back and think about sex trafficking what do you see? 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? These are common misconceptions about what sex trafficking looks like here in the United States.

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 since most often it occurs right in front of us.

Myth vs. Fact

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

Fact: Commercial sex trafficking is not 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) buying a girl is about as easy as ordering a pizza.

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

Fact: 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 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.

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

Fact: Yes, trafficking happens to undocumented foreign nationals, however, it is estimated that 80-90% of US victims are US citizens (source). While 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.

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 (source).

Myth 5: Traffickers always kidnap their victims.

Fact: While this can happen, the number one place traffickers find their victims is online from the comfort of their own living room. They build a relationship with these young vulnerable children over the internet and then most go willingly to meet them in person.

Myth 6: Trafficking only happens to girls.

Fact: 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.

Myth 7: Trafficking only happens to those young people that have runaway 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 anyone 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.

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 with another female.

Myth 10: She is choosing this life.

Fact: 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 around 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. It takes on average 7 attempts for a victim of trafficking to leave the situation, meaning that if law enforcement does show up, she may still not feel safe enough to walk away.

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.

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Guardian Group’s mission is to prevent and disrupt the sex trafficking of women and children while enabling partners to identify victims and predators in the United States.