We might have actor Liam Neeson to thank for getting us riled up about sex trafficking. After all, as the very angry father of a young woman kidnapped to be sold as a sex slave in the Taken (2008) film series, he made us wish we all had a “very particular set of skills” (or at least knew someone who did) to take down the bad guys and protect victims from this newly exposed underbelly of our world.
Although sex trafficking has really come into the spotlight within the last two decades, as a human rights abuse, it’s been around way longer than that—think thousands of years. The fact is, once trading in goods took place in the ancient world, people were traded as well, and often sold as sex slaves against their will. To think of sex trafficking as a recent phenomenon, then, is inaccurate.
What is recent, however, is its criminalization. It was only within the last twenty years that the UN recognized it as an act of violence, and in 2000 that the U.S. put a law into place to protect victims of sex trafficking.
There are other sex trafficking myths as well:
MYTH 1. Human trafficking always involves sexual exploitation.
Trafficking is often confused with sex slavery. The fact is that most trafficking victims are in fact exploited for labor purposes, mostly for agricultural or domestic work. Sex trafficking refers explicitly to those victims who are sexually exploited.
MYTH 2. It only takes place in foreign countries, like those in eastern Europe and southeast Asia.
Unfortunately, this is a popular misconception about sex trafficking. Sure, the global numbers are mind-boggling—nearly 4.5 million victims worldwide. But consider this: the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported more than 3,500 cases of sex trafficking within the U.S. in 2016 alone. This doesn’t include cases that are not reported. Sex trafficking takes place in our own backyards. It doesn’t have to cross any national or international borders; it just needs to involve sexual exploitation.
MYTH 3. Only women can be trafficked for sex.
Not so. Victims include men, children of any gender and members of the LGBTQ community. And it has no preference when it comes to a victim’s race, class, creed or color.
MYTH 4. Only runaways and homeless people are targeted by sex traffickers.
Sure, runaways can become victims of sex trafficking—which for minors, by definition, refers to prostitution. But traffickers target anyone who’s vulnerable, and this sometimes means young girls, around 13 or 14 years old, who are trying to find their way in the world.
MYTH 5. Victims are usually kidnapped by a stranger.
No. Runaways often turn to prostitution because they don’t see any other options for survival. Young girls have been coerced into sex work by “boyfriends” who have groomed them for months and gained their trust.
All myths aside, the fact is that we don’t need special skills to fight sex trafficking. We do need to open our eyes to its very real dangers, though, and to share the facts with others.
Lynn Ink is a university-level educator, writer, editor, women’s rights advocate and mom to three teens and a Border Collie. She loves Netflix binge-watching, blueberry pancakes and researching everything from historical events to remote places. She squirrels away most of her writing for no one to read, but is happy to share her work with LiveYourDream.org to help women and girls achieve their fullest potential. Currently, she’s working on a novel about a caregiver who chucks it all for an epic road trip and an In-N-Out burger. Maybe she’ll share it one day.