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Misconceptions regarding trafficking in persons

There are a number of commonly held misconceptions about trafficking which must be dispelled. Box 28 describes some of the most common ones.

Box 28

Trafficking myths and misconceptions

Myth 1: Trafficking is the same as smuggling

Smuggling requires an illegal border crossing and is a crime against a State border. Human trafficking is a crime against the State but inflicted on individuals and involves commercial sex acts or labour or services that are induced through force, fraud or coercion, regardless of whether or not transportation occurs.

Myth 2: Trafficked persons can only be foreign nationals

The federal definition of human trafficking includes both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. A common form of domestic trafficking includes persons under pimp control. It is estimated that approximately 100,000-300,000 U.S. children are trafficked or are vulnerable to human trafficking.

Myth 3: Persons who knowingly engage in illegal activities cannot be considered victims of trafficking

Initial consent to commercial sex or labour prior to acts of force, fraud or coercion is not relevant to the crime. If a person is forced, defrauded or coerced to perform commercial sex acts or labour against his or her will, he/she might be a victim of trafficking.

Myth 4: A person receiving payment for commercial sex acts or labour cannot be a victim of trafficking

Whether a person receives payment or other forms of compensation for commercial sex acts or labour has no effect on whether a person is trafficked. If a person is forced, defrauded, or coerced to perform commercial sex acts or labour against their will, he/she might be a victim of trafficking, regardless of payment

Myth 5: Human trafficking requires the victim to be physically restrained, physically abused, or held in bondage

The legal definition of trafficking does not require physical restraint, bodily harm, or physical force. Psychological means of control, such as threats, fraud or abuse of the legal process, are sufficient elements of the crime.

Myth 6: All foreign national trafficking victims are undocumented immigrants

While some foreign national trafficking victims are undocumented, immigrants with legitimate visas are also trafficked.

Myth 7: Only females are trafficked

Men and boys are also victims of trafficking. Most males are not only trafficked to perform acts of labour but also trafficked in the commercial sex industry.

Myth 8: All trafficking situations include commercial enterprises, companies, business entities or organized crime rings

Trafficking can exist even when the trafficker is not associated with a commercial enterprise or an organized crime ring. Any person who receives compensation or benefits from forcing a person to perform commercial sex acts or labour is a trafficker. For example, parents who force their child to perform sex acts with a landlord in lieu of rent may be considered a trafficker under law.

Myth 9: Victims will immediately ask for help and identify themselves

Due to an extreme lack of trust, self-blame, shame, fear of arrest, threats of harm to family and/or other "grooming" methods used by the traffickers, victims tend not to immediately ask for help. This allows trafficking to occur in the open.

Voices for Victims: Lawyers Against Human Trafficking Tool Kit for Bar Associations (2013), American Bar Association, Task Force on Human Trafficking

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