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The Harm of Fake Trafficking Stories

How Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts Work

Last year, the world’s attention has turned toward human trafficking in new numbers. Particularly in the United States, #savethechildren made headlines as supporters took to the streets seemingly in support of victims of child trafficking. On social media, story after story was shared about people who believed they or their children had narrowly escaped being trafficked in a grocery store parking lot. While I am grateful for the attention that these stories have brought to the human trafficking movement, I want to be honest about the impact because intentions and impact are two different things. The truth is that these stories cause damage to the anti-trafficking movement and silence the voices of real survivors.

If you wade through the fake human trafficking stories, what you find is that there is a common thread of identification. The “victims” of the stories are relatable to the average person. This draws the reader into the story because they can imagine themselves or a child in their lives as the victim. That is why nearly all movies involving human trafficking show middle class girls from loving families getting snatched off the streets. It is a compelling image to most people, but it is rarely reality.

Traffickers are smart. They do not tend to go after children who have parents who will look for them. They go after the runaways and homeless, the kids who have aged out of foster care and are on their own, and the ones in the middle of migration whose parents don’t even know where they are. Real human trafficking stories are always complicated, but they aren’t as approachable for the average person because we are fortunate to have little or no experiences with the typical traumas that often eventually lead to trafficking.

The middle class girl snatched from her neighborhood sidewalk is a much easier sell than the story of the teenage girl who was moved around to different foster homes until she ran off with her boyfriend who pimped her out so they could both get their next opiate fix. The first is a Hollywood movie; the second is reality. In Indonesia, the stories of survivors begin with poverty and/or child marriage, and they end with migration and the complicated choices that a teenage girl should never have to make in order to stay alive.

The truth is that we like the dramatic stories of the children from homes like ours because those problems are easy to solve. If human trafficking looked like Hollywood movies, all we really need is good prevention education, strong law enforcement, and a Liam Neeson in a pinch. In contrast, the stories of actual human trafficking survivors demand that we acknowledge and address issues like poverty, immigration, addiction, and broken systems. This requires more from us than a share on social media, a street sign, or a conversation about stranger danger with our children.

Luckily, the average person can become an ally to survivors and an asset in the anti-trafficking movement. It takes a commitment to listen to survivors to hear the real stories even when they are complicated and have no easy solutions and make us uncomfortable. It takes doing some homework to ensure that the organizations you support are legitimate and the stories that you share are true. These are the kind of allies that anti-trafficking organizations need – ones who can live in the tension of the complexities and honor the reality of the lived experiences of survivors without judgement. We need people who are in it for the long haul, tackling the problems that lead to trafficking in the first place, rather than those who are in it for a few likes.

(For more information about how you can support legitimate anti-trafficking organizations, see our post on 10 Ways You Can Support Anti-Trafficking Without Spending a Dime. You can also check out our ACT page for more ideas.)

The Female Victim Myth: What About the Boys?

The Female Victim Myth What About the Boys

Typically, sex trafficking is presented as a crime primarily affecting women and girls. In data sets as recent as five years ago, researchers asserted that a whopping 97% of all sex trafficking victims are female. It is a narrative that has driven policy as well as justified the disproportionate allocation of funding and resources to […]

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When Human Trafficking Rescues Aren’t Ethical

When HT Rescues Aren't Ethical

While rescues or raids may still be necessary in some cases, they should always be performed under the leadership and authority of local law enforcement.

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Exploited for Profit: A Story of Two Street Kids

Exploited for Profit

There were two of them. One was probably around 7 and the other younger… maybe 4. They could have been sisters. They were both small and skinny, with tattered clothing and hungry eyes. I saw them as I was walking across the parking lot to the convenience store where I stopped to get a bottle […]

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The Truth About Survivor Success Stories

The Truth About Survivor Success Stories 2

When there is no longer a need to find food and shelter and physical safety, they have to wrestle with questions of their own value and the implications of what has been done to them. I cannot begin to describe how difficult this process is for a survivor.

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How Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts Work

How Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts Work (6)

While strategies are certainly nuanced, we can generalize the categories of responses needed to effectively address human trafficking. A helpful way of thinking about anti-trafficking work is breaking it down into its 4 major categories: advocacy, prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation.

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10 Ways You Can Support Anti-Trafficking Without Spending a Dime

10 Ways to Support Anti-Trafficking

There is no doubt that there is much to do about the problem of human trafficking. Global estimates put the number of slaves in the world today at over 40 million. With such a staggering figure, it is critical that regular people come alongside professionals in the anti-trafficking sector. We cannot do it alone. The […]

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Sex Trafficking as a Capitalist System: Part 2

How Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts Work (8)

If making the global sex trade less profitable is the cornerstone to the dismantling of the industry itself, it is important to know where the best place is to focus those efforts. As noted in part 1, the supply chain of the sex industry has four parts: the product, the wholesalers, the retailers, and the buyers. In the sex trafficking supply chain, the first two parts are the most resistant to intervention.

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Sex Trafficking as a Capitalist System: Part 1

How Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts Work (1)

Put in economic terms, sex trafficking is a supply chain with a supply side and a demand side. The two parts of the supply side are the product (sexual services) and wholesalers (traffickers involved in recruitment and transfer). Retailers (traffickers involved in sales such as brothel employees, pimps etc.) and customers (those that pay for sex) make up the demand side

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After Aftercare

After Aftercare

Caring for child survivors of sexual trafficking is multi-faceted. In the initial days, we deal with things like acute medical needs, family services, and legal procedures. But slowly life takes on a rhythm, trust is built, and the deeper wounds are cared for. Trauma for sexually exploited children runs deep, and it is not something that any aftercare program can ever fully and perfectly address. Aside from the necessary mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, a good aftercare program has to think about a child’s future.

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