Anthropologist David Feingold says, “Trafficking is like a disease. If you don’t change your response or if your response to the disease is 10 years out of date and made up of myths, the solution will not be effective, and may even be harmful” (Silverman, 2003). The following are four major myths about human trafficking:
The reality is that human trafficking occurs in almost every country including the United States—the second most frequent destination for trafficked persons. The U.S. State Department estimates that 15,000 victims enter the U.S. each year through trafficking rings, and that more victims are trafficked within our borders (U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], 2004). These numbers are estimates because the trade is secretive, the victims are silenced, and the traffickers are dangerous. Although the majority of people trafficked are women and girls into sexual servitude, trafficking is not just forced prostitution. Victims of human trafficking may also be in forced labor situations as domestic servants (nannies, housekeepers, maids); sweatshop workers; janitors; restaurant workers; migrant farmworkers; fishery workers; hotel or tourist industry workers; or workers in nail salons.
Without recruiters and criminals, human trafficking would not exist. Poverty, unemployment, inflation, war, and the lack of a promising future are compelling factors that facilitate the ease with which traffickers recruit people, but they are not the cause of trafficking. Traffickers take advantage of poverty, unemployment, and the desire to emigrate to recruit people and traffic them into dangerous situations. Tragically, recruiters often know their victims. A common way that many victims are recruited is through a friend or acquaintance (e.g., a cousin, neighbor, boyfriend, or fiancé) or by an individual recommended to them by someone they trusted.
Sometimes victims are recruited in groups. For example, an agency sets up a booth at a job fair in a high school gym. The legitimate-looking pamphlets, websites, and recruiters are quite professional looking. When victims arrive in a destination country, the methods used to control them include confiscation of travel documents, violence, threats to harm family members, and debt bondage. Whatever the recruitment method, the majority of people do not expect the exploitation and violence that awaits them. The ugly truth is that trafficking is big business. Traffickers make large profits due to high demand at low risk of prosecution.
Finally, traffickers can be anyone. Traffickers brazenly operate in our neighborhoods. They advertise in our newspapers and on Craigslist. They are men and women of all ages. They run legal employment agencies. They are diplomats who often get diplomatic immunity when caught, and they work in all kinds of professions (General Accounting Office, 2008). They act alone, or they may be members of international crime rings.