Myths & Misconceptions

Although awareness about human trafficking is rapidly increasing, there are still a number of common myths regarding this criminal activity. Debunking these misperceptions is an important step to understanding and combating human trafficking in our community.


Myth 1: Human trafficking is only an international problem.

Reality: Human trafficking is both an international and a domestic problem. It occurs all over the globe, including within the United States. Foreign  nationals are brought to this country for the purpose of sex and labor trafficking; however, a high number of citizens and legal permanent residents also fall prey to traffickers.

Myth 2: Human trafficking is the same as human smuggling.

Reality: Human trafficking is a crime a against a person while human smuggling is a crime against a border. Smuggling always involves transportation and the crossing of a border, and the individuals being smuggled may have entered into an agreement about the activity. trafficking does not require any type of transit; a victim could be sold for sex out of their own home. Human smuggling can easily cross over into human trafficking when someone is willingly smuggled across a border and then held against their will for commercial sex or labor; however, the two crimes are distinct.

Myth 3: Victims are always held against their will with physical force or restraint.

Reality: Force, fraud, or coercion are key elements of human trafficking but these factors do not always manifest in physical force. Psychological and emotional coercion can be used to hold a victim in fear and make them submit to a trafficker's demands. Many child victims of trafficking are lured into a life of prostitution through the romantic promises of a trafficker. These children may form strong trauma bonds with their exploiters and may not even self-identify as a victim.

Myth 4: All human trafficking involves sex.

Reality: Sex trafficking is the most commonly reported type of human trafficking in the United States, but labor trafficking is also a serious problem. Victims of labor trafficking can often be more difficult to identify as they are exploited within legitimate industries such as agriculture, hospitality, construction, domestic work, or health and beauty services.

Myth 5: Sex trafficking means the same thing as prostitution.

Reality: Sex trafficking and prostitution are not always synonymous. Prostituted children are always victims of trafficking under federal law; however, adults in prostitution are only considered trafficking victims when there is force, fraud, or coercion. Many adults in a life of prostitution began when they were children or have been compelled by a pimp, meaning they likely fit the definition of a trafficking victim at one point. While most sex trafficking involves a person being prostituted, the law alos covers other activities. With respect to children, any commercial sex act can qualify as trafficking; this includes things such as prostitution, child pornography, and dancing in a strip club.

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