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United Way Blog

Busting Myths About Human Trafficking

Keeya’s neighbors in Botswana knew her family was struggling to pay for her education and offered her a scholarship to a good college and free accommodations in the U.S. in exchange for working at their daycare center. When Keeya arrived at her new family’s home in America, the woman there confiscated her identity documents, forced her to work as her nanny, and physically and verbally abused her for more than a year. Eventually, Keeya was able to find help, connect with law enforcement, and secure a job and safe place to live. She is now a survivor advocate who speaks out publicly about human trafficking to raise awareness in an effort to help others.

– State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2019

Human trafficking is happening in every state in America and very likely in your own community. Every year, almost 25 million people – about three times the population of New York City – are trafficked around the world, according to the U.S. State Department.

It’s modern-day slavery, targeting victims of any age, race or gender. Traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to force people into labor or commercial sex. As with Keeya, traffickers often use the promise of educational opportunities, a better job or living situation to lure victims.

July 30 is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, to help promote awareness about human trafficking. It’s a good time to bust a few myths about human trafficking that still prevail.

Myth #1: Human trafficking mainly happens in developing countries.

Fact: Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries. Trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

Myth #2: It’s mostly about commercial sex exploitation.

Fact: Experts say that most of the 25 million people – more than half the 40 million in human slavery today – are in forced labor situations like Keeya. Labor trafficking has been uncovered all across the United States:in nail salons, agriculture production, rural animal processing facilities, restaurants and domestic labor in private homes.

Myth #3: Human trafficking often looks like the movies, where someone is kidnapped and brought to another country to be exploited.

Fact: As in Keeya’s case, most human traffickers play psychological games to trick, defraud, manipulate or threaten victims into providing exploitative labor or commercial sex. While physical coercion or abduction can play a role, most often victims are tricked through lies and promises of a better life.

Myth #4: Trafficking always includes some form of travel or transportation across borders. 

Fact: Human trafficking does not require movement or border crossing. If someone is forced to work or engage in commercial sex against their will, it is considered trafficking. More than half of the world’s trafficking victims are exploited in their own country, according to the United Nations. The U.S. Department of Justice says the majority of sex trafficking victims in the US are American citizens.

Myth #5: There’s nothing I can do to stop human trafficking.

Fact: You can educate yourself to spot the signs of human trafficking. It may be something your employer can fight, too. For example, UPS trains its drivers to spot human trafficking and alert the authorities.

UPS has also teamed up with United Way’s Center on Human Trafficking and Slavery to develop a community training program for local United Ways to teach people to spot signs of trafficking and know how to respond. It’s been piloted in five cities, training more than 400 community leaders so far. All of the nearly 1,100 local United Ways in the U.S. can now use this curriculum to train local partners.

If you ever suspect human trafficking, immediately contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or call 9-1-1.

Inspired by what you read? Change starts with you. Take action today to make a difference in your community.

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