Top 15 Myths That Contribute to Child Trafficking

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 
― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Widespread belief in these damaging myths contributes to a culture where sex trafficking thrives: A culture of silence that questions the validity of a victim’s claim, blames the victim, and minimizes the responsibility of the perpetrator. It has been shown that myth acceptance amongst jury members influences the outcome of judicial proceedings, making it more likely that the trafficker will be found not guilty. One of the most important things we can do is to challenge these myths when we hear them. Only by offering a voice of dissent can we begin to dismantle these damaging beliefs and eliminate child trafficking.

Myth 1: Child trafficking does not happen in the United States or must involve some form of travel, transportation, or movement across state or national borders.

Truth: Child Trafficking includes movement within a country, whether by force or not, with the purpose of exploiting the child. It happens all across the United States in both large cities and rural areas.

Myth 2: Child trafficking must include elements of physical force, restraint, bondage, and/or violence. If someone did not want to be trafficked, he or she would leave the situation.

Truth: When trafficking involves a minor under 18, the child is a victim with or without force being involved. Children’s brains are biologically vulnerable and prone to impulsive risk-taking. Emotional manipulation, threats, a perceived lack of options, and fear of legal retribution all factor into why it is not easy for a minor to simply leave a trafficking situation.

Myth 3: Child trafficking victims will seek help as soon as they have the opportunity. Any person can resist if they really want to. If a victim doesn’t physically fight back, you can’t really say that it was forced.

Truth: Victims are often controlled to the point that they do not have regular safe access to a phone or computer. They are often subject to physical and emotional abuse designed to prevent them from seeking help. 

Myth 4: Child trafficking is always controlled by males involved with organized crime. “Normal” appearing, well-educated, middle-class people are not trafficked or traffickers. A person who looks “normal” and acts “normal” simply cannot be predator.

Truth: Traffickers can be males or females, with or without organized crime networks. They can appear “normal”, charming and well-connected. 

Myth 5: Traffickers are always strangers.

Truth: While some traffickers may be strangers to the victim, they can also be family members or “friends”. Many that start out as a stranger work to build trust and become either a romantic partner or “friend” to the victim.

Myth 6: If a child has sex with an adult in exchange for money, food, or shelter, he or she is not a victim. The child is a criminal or prostitute.

Truth: Minors involved in sex trafficking are not prostitutes or criminals. They are victims who have been manipulated into the situation or forced into the situation due to desperate circumstances.

Myth 7: It is the victim’s fault if they are trafficked, whether it is because they knew what they were getting into, because they wore certain clothes, or were somehow sexually suggestive. If the child is intoxicated, they are somewhat responsible for things getting “out of control”

Truth: Victims are manipulated or forced into sex trafficking. Nothing they wore, said, or did caused their victimization. What caused the victimization is the trafficker’s desire for control and profit.

Myth 8: Men are superior to and more powerful than women. It’s okay to use violence to control women. Women are meant to be controlled by men. Women enjoy being controlled by men.

Truth: All individuals are created equal and deserve dignity and respect. 

Myth 9: Instrumental sex (primarily physical and casual, not affectionate and relational) is glamorous. People’s bodies are objects created for sex.

Truth: The body is just a part of an individual’s full personhood and is not an object to be exploited. Instrumental sex, though glamorized in the media, often leaves individuals feeling empty, lonely and disconnected.

Myth 10: Buying sex is normal, common, and accepted male behavior that makes men better at sex. It is a result of “uncontrollable” male passions.

Truth: While reliable estimates on the percentage of men who purchase sex are lacking, even amongst males that purchase sex, the majority feel regretful or guilty about doing so. Characterizing urges as “uncontrollable” is a tactic to displace blame from the man who is acting on his (actually quite controllable) urges.

Myth 11: People in trafficking situations are morally different or more materialistic than people who did not end up in such a situation. 

Truth: Victims of child trafficking can come from any socio-economic background, and while many come from vulnerable situations, there is no evidence that victims are morally different. 

Myth 12: Victims choose, enjoy and gain wealth from the situation. Money paid cancels out the harm or exonerates the man who bought sex. The victim has positive feelings during the encounter.

Truth: The victim does not receive the money from transactions–traffickers do. The experience is traumatizing, not enjoyable.

Myth 13: The trafficker is always male and the victim is always a girl.

Truth: Victims and traffickers can be both male and female. Male victims are often unreported due to social stigma of male sexual victimization.

Myth 14: Abused children will always tell.

Truth: In Texas, 25% of girls and 16% boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before reaching 18, but only 10% will disclose their abuse. Traffickers and abusers manipulate the child to prevent disclosure by threatening physical harm to the victim or those close to the victim or by convincing a child that they are to blame, criminally guilty, or out of viable alternative options. Other traffickers pretend to be a romantic partner and cycle love with abuse to keep the child emotionally victimized.

Myth 15: Child victims of sexual abuse will have physical signs of the abuse.

Truth: Many acts leave no physical trace. While many traffickers do use physical abuse, some rely solely on emotional manipulation, which has no outward physical markers.

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