Human Trafficking 103:
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Misconception: Human Trafficking victims are all, or mostly, foreign nationals.
American citizens, as well as foreign nationals, can be victims of human trafficking in the United States. It’s important not to overlook those who were born, raised, and trafficked right here in America.
Misconception: Human Trafficking requires movement.
A person can be trafficked without ever leaving their house, especially in the case of parents selling children or intimate partners selling their wife or girlfriend. Many victim/survivors of human trafficking report never leaving their hometown while being exploited.
Note: Smuggling and human trafficking are two different crimes. Smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders and involves illegally transporting someone into that country. Human trafficking is a crime against a person.
Misconception: Human Trafficking always involves organized crime.
A trafficker can be anyone: a parent, a friend, a student, maybe even a well-respected community member. Some traffickers may just have two or three people they sell regularly. While gangs and organized crime organizations are certainly heavily involved in human trafficking, it’s important not to overlook smaller scale operations that easily stay under the radar.
Misconception: Traffickers are all strangers and/or abductors.
Perpetrators of human trafficking are much more commonly people whom the victim knows – friends, family, and intimate partners. These people create and take advantage of trusting relationships to manipulate someone into a trafficking situation.
Misconception: The interstate highway system is the largest factor in determining a state’s human trafficking rates.
It’s important to remember that human trafficking exists because there is a demand for illicit sex and cheap labor/products. The demand is to blame for this crime.
Regarding the highway system specifically, reality for many victims of human trafficking looks like being sold in their home state, their hometown, or in their family’s home – no highways needed. While it’s true that some traffickers keep victims on a moving circuit between cities all over the United States, some traffickers never take the people they sell out of town.
Finally, a number of complex factors contribute to a person or a state’s vulnerability to human trafficking. Learn more about those factors here.
Misconception: Human Trafficking statistics are well documented and easy to gather.
At this point, all human trafficking “statistics” in existence today are merely estimates. Trafficking is underreported, underdetected, and often mislabeled as another crime such as prostitution or domestic violence. As a result, reliable, hard-and-fast human trafficking statistics are difficult to come by in Oklahoma – and most everywhere else.
As more victims are recovered out of trafficking, properly identified, and extended protection – and more researchers dedicate time to studying human trafficking – we’ll see more accurate statistics. For now, treat human trafficking “statistics” you see or hear as educated guesses.
Misconception: Traffickers often stalk and abduct victims in public retail venues.
Stories often circulate on social media about people being followed around Target or Hobby Lobby by someone who seems suspicious, raising fears of being kidnapped and sold by human traffickers. These are not scenarios that are commonly reported by victims of trafficking.
We should always practice being aware of our surroundings and personal safety. Predators could certainly follow someone around a store with malicious intent. If someone is following you and/or exhibiting threatening behavior, you should report it immediately to the authorities.
However, traffickers tend to be more strategic about who they recruit, rather than conducting random kidnappings. They are much more likely to reach out to someone who seems vulnerable and develop a relationship they can take advantage of to get that person into human trafficking.