Every few months, another social media post about a narrow miss from a potential human trafficking situation goes viral. It may be a mom in Target who writes about how a stranger followed her around the store, looking to snatch her and/or her kids, or a woman who got into the wrong Uber and was convinced that the driver was going to kidnap her for sex trafficking. These posts are shared widely, because people want to be helpful — and if we can stop the horrors of human trafficking with just a click, why wouldn’t we?
The problem is that these stories are rarely true. While the people who post them may have perceived danger, it is usually the result of a misunderstanding. As a FBI agent in charge of Colorado’s Violent Crimes Against Children Unit stated, “…we don’t see kidnapping for human trafficking.” Instead, human traffickers tend to lure vulnerable teens over time.
The FBI agent’s option was backed up by Professor David Finkelhor, who runs the Crimes Against Children Research Center. His research shows that it is very rare for a person to be kidnapped for the purpose of sex trafficking.
Why does this matter? By sharing these posts, we create hysteria over human trafficking that may cover up a bigger problem: the manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable teens and adults. While it is possible that a child, teen or adult could be kidnapped from a big box store or by their Uber or Lyft driver, statistics show that this is exceptionally rare. Human traffickers are more likely to use psychological means to take advantage of their victims, such as manipulation, tricks, threats, or fraud.
When we focus on the Hollywood version of someone being taken from their home and forced to engage in commercial sex, we lose focus on how human trafficking really occurs and what it often involves. According to the Polaris Project, the top 5 risk factors for human trafficking are:
Recent migration or relocation
Mental health concern
Involvement in the child welfare system
In other words, it is the most vulnerable in our society who are most likely to be trafficked. Methods of trafficking may include isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, threats, and physical abuse. For example, according to the Polaris Project, the following are the top recruitment tactics used by traffickers:
Kidnapping is not a recruiting tactic typically used by traffickers.
While we applaud everyone for being alert to their surroundings and cautious of danger, we know that misconceptions about how certain types of crimes happen can cause people to overlook the true risks. By focusing on scary stories instead of on the realities of human trafficking in the United States, we miss the opportunity to help the people who need us most: the vulnerable youth and adults who are most in danger of being trafficked.
At Blackburn Center, we offer a range of services to victims of violence and crime, including victims of human trafficking. Contact our hotline at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to a trained crisis counselor. You can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (text: 233733) if you or someone you know needs immediate help.