Myths and stereotypes are pervasive in our societal understanding of human trafficking. We easily become attached to a specific story of trafficking victims and forget that the impacts and harms of sex trafficking expand much further than a single story. Often these stereotypes amount to a false understanding of human trafficking, which misrepresents the lived experiences of victims as well as the identities of the victims themselves. One incorrect and harmful myth is that trafficking only happens to children overseas. In reality, human trafficking knows no bounds and also happens to both children and adults in every country, including in the United States. If we fail to recognize this reality, we will remain stuck in the perception that human trafficking is absent in our own towns. In turn, trafficking victims who do not identify with the story of being trafficked overseas may fail to recognize that they are victims of trafficking themselves.
To get a better understanding of who trafficking victims are, Polaris has compiled years of data on human trafficking to help illuminate how trafficking really works and debunk prevalent myths. In fact, Polaris has worked on thousands of human trafficking cases involving foreign national survivors who are legally living and working in the United States. These include victims of both sex and labor trafficking. According to The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline 2019 Data Report, of the 22,326 victims and survivors identified in the United States, 1,388 were U.S. citizens/lawful permanent residents, 4,601 were foreign nationals, and 16,337 were unknown. While these statistics help highlight our mistaken perception that human trafficking only happens to children overseas, the number of human trafficking victims are underreported, so these statistics do not show the full picture.
Furthermore, trafficking victims are not limited to children. Looking at The World Without Exploitation’s Get the Facts January 2020 Report, although many children are victims, adults are victims of trafficking as well. As a whole, this fact is daunting, scary, and does hit close to home. However, there is a silver lining. With more victims coming forward to share their story, traffickers can be held accountable mainly because trafficking victims can provide specific information about their perpetrators. Furthermore, hearing directly from trafficking survivors and learning from their lived experiences allows for the best chances to provide meaningful victim services. It also enables us to create new spaces and learn from diverse experiences of survivors. With this, society as a whole, and most importantly victims of human trafficking, are encouraged to recognize the varying dangers of trafficking.
This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Samantha Newman on being chosen!