We encounter many misconceptions as we work to educate the community on trafficking awareness and prevention. Here are some of the most common ones.
Many people are detached from the issue of child sex trafficking because they do not believe it is an active threat within their communities. However, the reality is that trafficking is happening in America, and it is happening here in Southeast Texas more subtly than you may realize. Traffickers look for vulnerabilities in children and will then try to meet and exploit those needs. The red flags of trafficking may go unnoticed in children who are living in our community so it’s vital that we learn to recognize the signs of abuse and exploitation.
The most common misconception we hear at Harvest House is a misalignment of what trafficking actually is. Many people believe that it only occurs when a child is kidnapped and forced into “the life”. Although that scenario can happen, many kids in our community live at home, go to school and extracurricular activities, and are trafficked on nights and weekends. Most children are trafficked by someone they know, which could be an older boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent, a neighbor, or even another kid at school. Child sex trafficking commonly begins with the same kind of grooming that leads to abuse. If we only align trafficking with kidnapping, we may miss the signs that a child in our lives could be enduring abuse, exploitation, or trafficking.
We often see sensationalized imagery associated with trafficking, most commonly pictures of people being held in physical chains. Although this can and does happen, what we see most here in Southeast Texas is exploitation through psychological control.
Manipulative grooming and the broken relationships many children who have been trafficked experience may make it difficult to leave a trafficker, who the child may see as a boyfriend or provider.
Survivors may have different reasons for not leaving "the life", none of which involve chains or physical restraints, including: they've experienced a trauma bond with their trafficker, they may not have transportation to leave their trafficker, they may believe staying with their trafficker is better than returning home, or their trafficker may have convinced them that this is the best or only choice they have for a better future.
Through the process of grooming and manipulation, many children are trapped psychologically or emotionally in "the life" of trafficking. There could be many complex reasons that may prevent someone from leaving. While some may lack basic necessities, others may fear for their safety or the safety of loved ones should they choose to leave. Many children may even have a hard time self-identifying as a trafficking victim, as they may have been fed false promises of self-empowerment and feel that engaging in commercial sex as a minor is their own decision. If a child does decide to leave their trafficker, trauma bonds may lead them to return multiple times before they finally break free. Simply choosing to walk away is not as easy as it may seem.
While most survivors that are currently being identified in our country are female, more and more survivors are being identified who are not. In addition to the challenges discussed in previous posts in this series that prevent people from reporting abuse or exploitation, due to cultural stigma, past trauma, and fear of judgement, many children who have been abused stay silent. Traffickers rely on shame, oppression, disenfranchisement, and other factors that separate people from community resources to prevent them from finding safety and freedom. Sex trafficking isn’t just a girls issue, it’s a people issue.
Local demand is why traffickers see child sex trafficking as a profitable business. According to the Jefferson County DA’s office, Beaumont area sex ads, which indicate the opportunity to purchase sex, totaled around 173,556 in 2019. Sex trafficking exists because there is a demand for the children and adults exploited through it.
Often, trafficking is portrayed with sensationalized imagery and out-of-context statistics. This may include dramatized images of people being held in chains against their will or sweeping, sensationalized headlines about trafficking. These images and statements can actually do more harm than good by sending mixed signals to children who may currently be in “the life”. It can prevent them from self-identifying, as this imagery is not typically reflective of their own experiences.
Before sharing anti-trafficking posts or awareness articles that come across your feed, first consider the source, imagery, and wording. Ask yourself if the photo or article you are sharing honors the real people who have experienced trafficking or if it might be exaggerated for shock factor. One of the most important pieces in the fight against trafficking is combatting misconceptions about it.
Citations for Trafficking Misconceptions Series
Busch-Armendariz, Authors/editors: “Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas.” The IC² Institute, ic2.utexas.edu/pubs/human-trafficking-by-the-numbers-the-initial-benchmark-of-prevalence-and-economic-impact-for-texas.
“Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC).” CTDC, www.ctdatacollaborative.org.
“Misconceptions with Human Trafficking.” Liberty and Justice for Texas | Office of the Attorney General, www2.texasattorneygeneral.gov/human-trafficking/misconceptions-with-human-trafficking.
“Myths & Facts.” National Human Trafficking Hotline, 3 May 2019, humantraffickinghotline.org/what-human-trafficking/myths-misconceptions.
Skelton, Author: Eleanor. “Nine People Arrested, Five Rescued in Jefferson County during Anti-Human Trafficking Bust.” 12newsnow.com, 15 Mar. 2021, www.12newsnow.com/article/news/crime/nine-people-arrested-five-rescued-in-jefferson-county-anti-human-trafficking-bust/502-5146fc02-8725-416c-bdc8-fdf15688935a.