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Yes, Child Trafficking Exists - But Not Like Those Internet Conspiracies Would Have You Believe

The internet and social media have become part of our daily lives. We check our phones or computers for news, search online for information, and connect with others via social media. As convenient as the internet is, it can be difficult to make sure that you are getting accurate information. This is particularly true when it comes to crimes like human trafficking.

Over the past several years, a number of conspiracy theories have sprung up about child trafficking. We addressed one such theory in a prior post, but these claims continue, often with even more outlandish theories (such as online furniture retailers selling cabinets with children inside).

Child trafficking is a global problem, affecting children in every country in the world, including the United States. Children represent almost 20% of all human trafficking victims worldwide. Understanding how child trafficking occurs is critical to ending this practice.

Under U.S. law, human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into the commercial sex trade, labor, or services against their will. If a minor is induced into commercial sex, it is considered human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion was used. The majority of human trafficking victims are adults, and most are women or girls.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, children in the United States may be trafficked in a range of industries, including:

  • Commercial sex (on the street, at a club, in a massage parlor, or in private residences)

  • Online commercial sexual exploitation

  • Exotic dancing

  • Agriculture

  • Factory work

  • Meatpacking

  • Construction

  • Domestic labor in a home

  • Restaurant or bar work

  • Illegal drug trade

  • Door-to-door sales

  • Street peddling

  • Beauty salons

These activities occur in cities, suburbs, and rural areas throughout the country.

Traffickers often target children and youth who have a history of sexual abuse, substance abuse, low self-esteem, minimal social support, and/or dating violence. Runaway youth and children who have been in the foster care system are at particularly high risk for becoming victims of trafficking. In addition, LGBTQ youth may be as much as five times more likely to be trafficked than heterosexual youth.

There is a common misconception that child trafficking involves kidnapping or physically forcing someone into a situation. In reality, most traffickers use tactics like manipulation, threats, or tricks to get victims to provide commercial sex or exploitative labor. Vulnerable children may be more likely to fall prey to these types of manipulations. While social media has become a recruitment tool for child traffickers, many victims of human trafficking (including children) are exploited by someone that they know, such as a romantic partner or a family member. In some cases, children are trafficked by their parents or guardians.

While kidnapping may be used to obtain victims of human trafficking, it is a far less common tactic than emotional manipulation. For example, a teenage girl with an unstable home life may meet an older man who tells her that he is in love with her and that he can give her a better life. Over time, she comes to trust him and rely on him, and he begins to use a combination of violence, isolation, feigned affection and emotional abuse to control her. Because he may be the main person in her life she trusts and relies on, she does not question it when he tells her that she has to work without pay at a nail salon that he owns, or that she must engage in commercial sex acts.

Understanding the way that child trafficking most often occurs — using psychological tactics rather than force — is vital to protecting youth. Conspiracy theories about children kidnapped and then sold with furniture may make for a good story, but it distracts from the truth of how human trafficking really happens.

If you believe that someone that you have encountered is a victim of human trafficking, or if you are a victim or survivor yourself, we can help. Contact us 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272 to speak to a trained crisis counselor.

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