When thinking about human trafficking, what comes to mind? For many, the “Taken” movie series featuring Liam Neeson is what people perceive human trafficking to resemble. In the first Taken film, two teenage girls are abducted and sexually exploited. In an effort to rescue the girls, the main character, Liam Neeson, devises a plan to extricate his daughter and friend from the human traffickers.
This type of human trafficking can occur. However, most victims are human trafficked by someone familiar, not a stranger. According to data released by The Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), over 41% of child human trafficking victims are recruited by a family member. Additionally, for sex trafficking victims, over 91% are sold into exploitation by an intimate partner. When considering forced labor and sexual exploitation cases, there is clear overlap with familiar persons acting as the recruiter, whether a business contact, family member, significant other, or casual acquaintance.
Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking. However, human traffickers will target vulnerabilities in their victims. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lays out the five basic human needs: physiological (food, shelter), safety (job, health), love and acceptance, esteem (respect, freedom), and self-actualization. When targeting potential victims, human traffickers will look to the individual’s strongest vulnerabilities to exploit. Each trafficking scenario can look different. Some traffickers promise their victims love and acceptance, while others offer financial security. Those who are at an increased risk of being trafficked are the foster youth, runaways, those with mental health issues, the homeless, those with a current or history of sexual abuse and trauma, children, those with missing family figures, and those who lack financial resources.
So why is the complete stranger narrative so pervasive in our society if that is not how human trafficking happens most of the time?
When thinking about this global issue, it can be easy to cope with its existence by convincing oneself that it does not hit close to home. Human trafficking is not some “far-off” crime that only affects certain countries; it plagues every zip code in the United States.
A desire to fight human trafficking is not enough; it must be aimed at combating the issue at hand. Operating on a sensationalized version of human trafficking will only serve to hurt victims and survivors. In order to effect change, those who are passionate about eradicating this issue should take educational training addressing these common myths and misconceptions. Fighting human trafficking starts with a willingness to take off the blinders and a heart for those exploited.
You have the power to make a difference. Will you look into human trafficking for what it truly is?