Myths and Realities

Myth #1
“Trafficking doesn’t happen in the United States.”
Trafficking is happening right here, right now. Since 2001, the Anti-Trafficking Collaborative of the Bay Area (ATCBA), formerly the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative (AATC), has served several hundreds of victims of human trafficking, the majority of whom had been trafficked into the Greater Bay Area, since 2001. According to the report, Freedom Denied: Forced Labor in California, released by the Berkeley Human Rights Center and Free the Slaves in February 2005, California alone has had over 57 forced labor operations in almost a dozen cities between 1998 and 2003 alone. In California, 80% of the documented human trafficking cases occurred in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Myth #2
“Human trafficking is about prostitution.”
Human trafficking is not just about forced prostitution. Individuals of any spectrum can be trafficked for forced labor, which includes commercial sex. The victims that we have served have been trafficked and forced into situations involving domestic servitude, restaurant work, even teaching in public schools. Under U.S. federal law, human trafficking can include the recruitment, transfer, harboring, transportation or receipt of a person if it is for the purpose of enforced exploitation. Human trafficking takes many forms and in every industry where a worker can be exploited and compelled through force, fraud, or coercion to work against his or her will, human trafficking is happening. Until incidents of trafficking are better identified and documented, human trafficking will continually be under-reported, and we will not have an accurate snapshot of the types of exploitation.
We may be more exposed to commercial sex trafficking, and subsequently think that there is more sex trafficking because it is often the focus of governments and media reports. But labor trafficking is more prevalent, and it can often go unnoticed. Labor trafficking can be difficult to identify for many reasons, and one of these reasons is that workplace disputes might be seen as a wage and hour violation, versus labor trafficking. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that for every 1 victim of sex trafficking, there are 9 victims of labor trafficking worldwide.


Myth #3
“Trafficking only happens to impoverished women and girls.”
Trafficking victims are not just women and girls from impoverished regions of the world. Men and boys can be trafficked. Education level and socioeconomic class do not protect a person from being trafficked. Women and girls may be disproportionately highlighted as victims, but the risks or vulnerabilities may be higher for women because of the systemic inequalities in place in our society’s social structures. One of our trafficking clients was trafficked by his father’s girlfriend, and forced physically to clean homes and offices, even though he was only 13 years old. Another client had a nursing degree and was also a homeowner and respected community leader in their home country. And again, until incidents of trafficking are better identified and documented, human trafficking will continually be under-reported, and we will not have an accurate snapshot of the demographics of the exploited.

Myth #4
“Traffickers are members of organized crime rings.”
Traffickers are not always members of organized crime syndicates, gangs or drug cartels. Traffickers can also be individuals, small business owners, or even from the same family or circle of relatives and friends as the victim. Traffickers can be well-respected pillars of the community in the home country and in the U.S. Traffickers can be U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, as well as immigrants. 

Myth #5
“If you haven’t been physically beaten or restrained, you haven’t been trafficked.”
Physical abuse and limitations can happen, but psychological means of control are more common. Threats against themselves or their families, trauma, addiction, and a lack of options due to poverty and homelessness can all prevent victims from leaving exploitative situations. Traffickers use a range of methods to compel obedience from the victim. Physical injury or harm is not required for a person to be victimized.  Traffickers are savvy and can use a variety of techniques to control victims, including cultural coercion, such as using the victim’s sense of familiar obligation and duty to repay a debt to manipulate the victim. Many of our clients have expressed the same sentiment: Yes, I guess I could have physically walked out the door. Many times I wanted to escape. But the idea that I could actually exercise choice and leave? That was simply impossible.

Myth #6
Human trafficking requires that persons reach a certain destination and are forced to engage in commercial sex, labor, or services.
Human trafficking can include recruiting through fraud, coercion or force for the purposes of forced labor or sex. The victims may be removed from their potential trafficking situation before being forced to do the work and still be victims of human trafficking. Smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders, and human trafficking is a crime against the person.

Myth #7
Human trafficking victims are helpless “victims” with no role in their exploitation.
Sometimes victims are required to pay for their own transportation to the location of their forced work. Sometimes victims know the type of work they will perform – i.e. commercial sex work, but are not informed that they would not be paid or that the conditions of their work would change. Sometimes victims are aware that they may not be paid for several months or years until they pay off their alleged “debt”. However these reasons should not clear the traffickers of having violated people’s human rights. Initial consent to commercial sex or labor before the trafficker used force, fraud, or coercion is not relevant. You cannot consent to being trafficked and payment doesn’t cancel out the trafficking.

Leave a Reply