Sex Trafficking: Rumors vs. Truth

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.

Rumor vs. Truth

Rumor: 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: 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: Sex traffickers tie up, lock up or cage their victims.

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. 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: Sex traffickers use high-priced items online, such as cabinets, to sell their victims.

Truth: The rumors that traffickers were using Wayfair cabinets to sell children has been debunked as well as other rumors related to seemingly overpriced items for sale on sites like Amazon. Traffickers do launder money and may use this method to do so, but as far as the sale of a person through a high-priced online item this method has yet to be seen and proven.

Polaris Project, the organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, has debunked the most common rumors that they receive calls about and you can learn more about each one here.

Recovery Rumors

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 is not the case. Unless the trafficker is arrested, and the threat is gone, she is going to remain in a fearful survival mode and often 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 not show up and arrest the trafficker, 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. Be wary of organizations claiming to rescue victims here in the United States, this is the job of law enforcement.

Together it is vital that we stop the spread of misinformation regarding this horrific crime. For more information on how to recognize and report potential trafficking check out the Guardian Learning Center’s introductory course.

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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.