Click any of the myths for a look at the reality…
In addition to these common myths, more perspective can be found on the Love146 Language & Media Guide.
We know how many people are enslaved today.
Frankly, no one knows exactly how many people trafficking affects. Years ago, it was estimated that 27 million people were enslaved. In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that 20.9 million were enslaved. But these are estimates—not facts. Trafficking is an illegal underground issue; it is incredibly complex and underreported. For these reasons, it is difficult to measure, although more research is desperately needed. We know the problem is real. We know the problem is big. And behind every disputable estimate is a real person that cannot be dismissed.
It is with humility over the past few years that we at Love146 have looked more closely at the problem of outdated or questionable estimates being presented as hard facts. Misuse of statistics discredits the modern-day abolition movement and doesn’t truly equip people to address trafficking in their own communities.
Most child trafficking is for sex.
While child sex trafficking happens to be what Love146 has the most experience and expertise with, children are exploited more for forced labor than any form of trafficking. Labor trafficking in children is a huge problem. In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that there were more than four times as many children trafficked for labor than for sex.
Only girls are trafficked for sex.
Children are inherently vulnerable, but often when we look at boys we don’t see this. While it’s true that the majority of children trafficked for sex are girls, boys are not immune to abuse and commercial exploitation. Across the globe, from Boston to Bangkok, Love146 has repeatedly come across boys being trafficked for sex. Most commonly, we see communities of older boys and young men that approach, coerce, and recruit other boys into a life of sexual exploitation.
During a rescue operation, children are always happy to be helped.
Not always, but sometimes. However, “rescue” can be an incredibly disorienting experience for a victim. Many youth caught up in commercial sex live in fear of law enforcement and do not readily trust strangers. One girl was told by rescuers, “We have a safe place for you with help and services,” to which she responded “Last time someone said that it didn’t turn out so well.” Repeatedly (and understandably) we hear from survivors that when they were rescued, they didn’t know they were being helped until much later. For a victim, to be removed from a situation of trafficking may mean being taken away from what has become familiar and predictable and placed into an unknown future. The anxiety that can be generated by a “rescue” experience is compounded if the child doesn’t yet understand their experience as trafficking. While rescue operations are sometimes necessary, at Love146 we’re exploring alternative routes of emancipation that can be equally or more effective in bringing freedom.
Victims are usually kidnapped and held under lock and key.
While we’ve encountered cases of children who were taken from their communities and kept in a locked room, forceful kidnapping and containment are not the majority of cases in modern-day slavery. Many children are trafficked through empty promises, false job offers, and coercion. While they are not always kept physically bound to their trafficker, they may be scared to seek help or threatened if they leave. Additionally, in some cases they may not know of or have the opportunity to access help and resources. Today’s “chains” are less visible, and the Hollywood version of trafficking and modern-day slavery we may have in our minds (i.e. white vans and chains) don’t represent the majority of cases.
Human trafficking must involve a victim being moved.
Laws differ globally, but according to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking can occur when a victim is recruited or harbored. For trafficking to occur in the U.S. there is no longer a mandate that a victim be moved from one place to another. Recruitment and harboring can occur through the same means as transporting, such as threats, fraud, coercion, or deceit. Trafficking can occur without a victim ever leaving his or her own neighborhood.
This doesn’t happen in the United States.
Yes it does. Cases of child trafficking and exploitation are reported on a regular basis from law enforcement and social services throughout the country.
These children are prostitutes and criminals.
The UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol acknowledges that a child (that is, a person under the age of 18) cannot in any way give a valid consent for a commercial sexual act. Therefore, any child who is involved in commercial sex is victim of exploitation.
Additionally, in many places age of consent and safe harbor laws (which vary state by state in the U.S.) reinforce that these children are not prostitutes but victims. Legally and ethically, the term “child prostitute” itself is a misnomer. Unfortunately, this global and federal understanding is still unacknowledged by many U.S. states. In some states children continue to be arrested for solicitation.
Some children become involved in other criminal activity as a byproduct of their commercial sexual exploitation. For example, sometimes they are arrested for drug use/possession (often provided by a trafficker), truancy, loitering, and petty theft (which could be working to meet quotas set by traffickers), etc. For this and other reasons, many cases of child trafficking and exploitation are misidentified by law enforcement and media and incriminate the child or portray them as a deviant. Unfortunately, this causes children who have been trafficked and/or exploited to be placed in detention centers and charged with crimes, instead of receiving the holistic care they deserve. Most tragic is that it reinforces for the youth that they were not victimized.
Those who hurt children like this look creepy and menacing.
In many cases, those buying, selling, and abusing children appear to live ordinary, respectable lives. In fact, perpetrators often seek out positions of trust and power in order to gain access and maintain exploitative situations. Too often the stories we hear involve pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement, and educators—perpetrating unspeakable crimes against children, using their power and connections as protection and facade. They come from various walks of life.
Lest we start another myth, we should say it is also pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement, educators, etc. who have been some of the greatest champions for children and abolition. There is no one true stereotype for who would exploit or traffic children—or who could be their greatest ally.
Only pedophiles have sex with minors.
Demonizing those who buy sex from teens as pedophiles is technically incorrect and problematic. Pedophilia is the condition of being sexually attracted to young children who have not yet begun puberty. Rings of pedophiles exist, and people do buy and sell young children for sex—we’ve received girls in our own survivor care programs as young as 7 years old. However, to think that all those who buy sex from children are affected by this abnormal psychological condition prevents us from seeing that it is often “normal” folks in our communities who buy sex from trafficked youth.