As Americans and global citizens we often focus on raising awareness that enslavement and trafficking exist. My team and I at End Slavery Now want to move further and push an awareness that human trafficking is wrong and, therefore, requires action against it. We analyze methods for transforming bystanders into advocates for the abolition of modern slavery. This challenge isn’t unlike the antebellum United States. There was a long period of time during the 18th and 19th centuries where Americans were aware that chattel slavery existed in our country, it wasn’t until the 1830s-1860s that a significant portion of the population began to believe that chattel slavery was wrong.
Awareness of human trafficking is growing, and I see evidence of this on a daily basis. Within the last month, I saw three personal testimonies of near-capture for “sex trafficking” shared on my Facebook feed by strangers and re-shared by my own friends. While interest in human trafficking demonstrates growing awareness about the issue, it does not translate to any increased understanding of the human pain and tragedy. Consequently, it does not result in any change in individuals’ behaviors or attitudes.
While social media posts gather likes and shares and comments, these posts also build myths about trafficking. Through sensationalist posts, like those found on my Facebook feed, I quickly realized that friends and family believed that they were at high risk of being kidnapped and trafficked. Their regular trips to shopping malls and offices now, supposedly, represent a risk to them and their daughters.
This level of awareness is more harmful than helpful for several critical reasons:
It promotes a myth that trafficking is a crime of kidnapping. Ideas that girls are vulnerable to being snatched off the street lead to terror and fear. Kidnapping victims is risky for traffickers; instead, human traffickers are far more likely to lure individuals into a coercive scheme by building a relationship with and/or promising something to them. When individuals come willingly – at least at first – there’s less risk for the trafficker.
It suggests that trafficking is an impulsive crime. Human traffickers target their victims. They identify men, women and girls who are vulnerable and appear to need money, a better life, love, friendship or security. Traffickers then groom them or construct a scheme that appears attractive to the individual. This process takes care and time.
It positions middle-class women and girls as the most vulnerable. Human trafficking disproportionately affects minorities and disadvantaged groups. Experts understand that individuals such as homeless and runaway youths, members of the LGBTQ population and children with histories of childhood sexual exploitation are far more vulnerable.
This video expounds on some of the reasons why the myth of abduction does not support our work to raise real awareness on the issue of human trafficking.