Myths vs. Reality About Trafficking

It always begins as a violent crime.

The most pervasive myth about trafficking is that it always—or often—involves kidnapping or physically forcing someone into a situation. In reality, most traffickers get to know someone first, develop trust, then use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.

Traffickers usually target victims they don’t know.

Many survivors have been trafficked by boyfriends, romantic partners, spouses, new friends, and by family members, including parents.

Trafficking always involves moving, traveling, or transporting a person across state or national borders.

Trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, which involves illegal border crossings. In fact, human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever. Victims can be recruited and trafficked in their own home towns, even in their own homes.

People being trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations, locked in, or held against their will.

This is sometimes the case. More often, however, trafficked people stay for reasons that are more complicated. Many lack basic necessities to get out - such as transportation, money, or a place to live. Some fear for their safety. Some have been so manipulated they do not identify as being under the control of another person.

All commercial sex is human trafficking.

This is true if a minor is involved. But commercial sex involving an adult is only considered human trafficking if the adult providing commercial sex is doing so against her/his will as a result of force, fraud, or coercion.

Human trafficking only happens in illegal or underground industries.

Human trafficking cases have been reported and prosecuted in industries including hotels, restaurants, cleaning services, nail salons, construction, factories, transportation services, and more.

If a trafficked person consented to their initial work situation, it’s not human trafficking.

If someone is coerced into performing a commercial sex act, it's human trafficking. If someone is recruited or obtained through coercive means for slave-type labor or debt bondage, it's human trafficking. Someone may "consent" under such conditions, but it's still human trafficking.

For more information, see Polaris.