This past summer, conspiracy theories about human trafficking flooded the internet, specifically through social media channels. Misinformation was predominantly spread by conspiracy theorists operating under the name of “QAnon” and used hashtags “Savethechildren” or “Saveourchildren” to generate attention from internet users on all social media platforms. These posts continued to circulate on social media feeds, distracting people from the truth and disrupting efforts to assist victims and survivors of human trafficking.
Although these conspiracies have since been debunked by legitimate anti-trafficking organizations, conspiracy theorists left in their wake a sea of misinformed individuals confused about the realities of trafficking and the real lived experiences of trafficking victims.
These conspiracy theories not only disrupt service providers, they perpetuate common misconceptions that people already have about trafficking. One major misconception is the idea human trafficking victims will always seek help when in public. This misconception is incorrect because it fails to recognize the complicated scenarios in which many victims are controlled by their traffickers. Traffickers exercise control in a variety of ways, using threats of physical, psychological, emotional, and/or sexual violence to victims and/or their families. Victims frequently depend on their abuser for basic survival needs, such as food, water, and shelter. Traffickers take advantage of victims’ vulnerabilities to maintain control, but this victimization doesn’t always look like the images circulated by conspiracy theorists typically depicting a child in ropes and chains. Traffickers often introduce themselves into victims’ lives by acting as a boyfriend or parental figure, promising to make sure victims’ basic needs are met. Victims are often conditioned to believe their abuser cares for them and are often manipulated to think their situation is normal. Some victims might be hesitant to self-identify as victims because they are conditioned to believe their situation is a product of their own decisions or a characteristic of their relationship with their trafficker. Consequently, human trafficking victims may not seek help when in public because they don’t think their experience constitutes a crime. Victims might also be resistant to involving law enforcement or other authority figures out of fear their trafficker will find out and become violent and threaten their lives or the lives of loved ones.
The assumption that victims of human trafficking will reach out for help is dangerous because it disincentivizes third-party intervention. It relies on action by the victim instead of encouraging action and awareness on the part of emergency responders and others who possess the resources to assist victims, like healthcare professionals. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, nearly 50% of individuals who have been trafficked saw a healthcare professional while they were being trafficked. It is imperative that first responders and other professionals recognize the key indicators of human trafficking in order to connect these individuals with assistance.
The dangers of spreading misinformation about human trafficking are widespread. Here are a few ways to help:
- Everyone contributes to the overall safety of society. It is important to understand how human trafficking exists and intersects with our daily life experiences. By recognizing the signs of human trafficking, individuals will be more equipped to making meaningful contributions to their profession and communities.
- The CSE Institute is among many anti-human trafficking organizations conducting research, educating and training individuals and groups, and advocating for survivors. Consider volunteering for a local or national organization that is trusted for doing impactful preventative work and assisting survivors.
- When it comes to social media posts, read skeptically and validate sources before “sharing.” Call out, flag, and report posts containing misinformation. This is the easiest way to slow the spread of myths.
If everyone does their part to dispel the myths and uncover the truths of human trafficking, then real and practical solutions can be implemented to combat this global problem.
This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author, Juliette Mogenson on being chosen!