Debunking Myths about Human Trafficking

For some people, the term “human trafficking” brings up images from the Hollywood film Taken—Kim Mills, the fictional daughter of a retired CIA operative, takes a vacation to Europe with her best friend only to be captured by members of an Eastern European sex trafficking ring. Shortly thereafter, everyone’s favorite hero Liam Neeson comes to her rescue. While this is an example of human trafficking, it doesn’t paint the full picture.

Earlier this week, United Way Worldwide hosted the Leadership Forum to Combat Human Trafficking in conjunction with the launch of its new Center on Human Trafficking and Slavery. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN) both spoke on initiatives they are taking in Congress to combat human trafficking. There was a wide range of speakers and presenters, including individuals who were once trafficked and now work for various organizations.

Most interestingly, John Cotton Richmond, a litigator from the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Unit debunked commonly held misconceptions about human trafficking:

Myth #1: Slavery is a crisis of the past, not one of present day.

Truth: With anywhere between an estimated twenty and thirty million (no definitive number), there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history.

Myth #2: Humans are trafficked based on hate or other discriminatory practices.

Truth: Trafficking is motivated by money. Trafficking is a 150.2 billion dollar industry, making it larger than CVS Pharmacy, AT&T, and Verizon, respectively.

Myth #3: All human trafficking is sex trafficking.

Truth: While sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking and modern-day slavery, it is only a piece of the pie. Labor trafficking and forced child military service are two other very common forms.

Myth #4: Victims are able to self-identify and are longing to be freed from servitude.

Truth: Most victims are not able to self-identify that they are victims of trafficking. Out of fear, many are apprehensive to try and liberate themselves, and many are in great distress when law enforcement conducts raids to free them.

Bipartisan legislation is currently working its way through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Congress: the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 will create a Washington, DC-based grant-making foundation that aims to enforce human trafficking laws and assist in the recovery of trafficked victims. The bill is an initiative of Senator Corker and enjoys bipartisan support from Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), among others. More importantly, the bill enjoys a diversified range of funding from areas such as the United States government, the private sector, and foreign governments as well. With government action and organizations like the United Way leading the effort, I am optimistic that the future holds substantial positive impacts for the effort of putting an end to human trafficking.