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Human trafficking is one of the most misunderstood social justice issues of our time. It is highly complex and often difficult to measure or identify. Additionally, human trafficking is often misrepresented in movies, books, and other media – further adding to public confusion. It’s with this widespread misunderstanding in mind that we present 13 common (and not-so-common) myths about human trafficking.

Myth 1: Slavery doesn’t exist anymore.

Human trafficking is synonymous with slavery. In fact, many refer to human trafficking as modern-day slavery and vice versa. By definition, a slave is a person who is treated as property, bought, and sold to be held in servitude. With an estimated 40.3 million modern-day slaves in the world, slavery is an even more widespread issue today than it has been at any other point in recorded history.

Myth 2: Human trafficking is an overseas problem.

Human trafficking happens in nearly every single country around the world, and it’s most likely happening where you live. While many cases are concentrated on coastal areas in the U.S., human trafficking was reported in every single state in 2017.

Myth 3: Major brands don’t use slave labor.

The 2018 report from KnowTheChain shows that some of the companies most likely to use slave labor are brands we use in our everyday lives. From clothing, to technology, to food, this report highlights the ethics of big name companies so you can make an informed choice. Take some time to read the full report and see how major brands stack up.

Myth 4: All traffickers are men.

One myth of human trafficking is that all the traffickers are male. While the majority of traffickers are men, women also play a prominent role in trafficking. According to the UNODC, an estimated 72% of convicted traffickers are male, and 28% are female. Some female offenders were once victims themselves and turned to trafficking to escape their own victimization.

Myth 5: All trafficking victims are women.

It is true that the majority of human trafficking victims are women (75% according to Polaris); however, men and boys are widely affected by sex and labor trafficking, as well. The human trafficking myth that males are rarely or never affected can be dangerous, leading to fewer preventative and aftercare programs specifically targeted towards those who identify as male.

Myth 6: Human trafficking only happens in impoverished communities.

While those living in poverty are disproportionately affected by human trafficking, there is no single face that fits this crime. People of every race, gender identity, age, and economic situation can be susceptible to labor and sex trafficking. Vulnerability can stem from a variety of reasons, and poverty is only one such circumstance.

Myth 7: All human trafficking victims are kidnapped and isolated.

This myth about human trafficking is often portrayed in pop culture. But human trafficking doesn’t require the victim to be taken from their home at all. As long as force, fraud, or coercion is present (or the victim is underage) the victim doesn’t need to be transported. In instances of cybersex trafficking, for example, a victim may be forced, coerced, or threatened to livestream or record themselves performing sexual acts from a home computer or cell phone. In cases of familial trafficking, it’s common for traffickers to pick up their victims from their homes and drive them to and from clients or a job site only to return them home afterwards.

Myth 8: Human smuggling and human trafficking are the same.

Human smuggling involves illegally moving people across a country’s borders. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is when “traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.” In some cases, human trafficking includes smuggling, but not in every human smuggling case is there human trafficking.

Myth 9: Victims and traffickers are usually strangers.

Sadly, in over 60% of cases, victims are familiar with their traffickers. A trafficker could be a family friend, a significant other, or a close relative. Familial trafficking is a horrific reality where a victim’s trafficker is either a direct family member or known—and often trusted—by the victim’s family. When the trafficker already has a connection to the victim, it can be easier to coerce the victim into forced sex or labor.

Myth 10: Rescue brings immediate relief for survivors.

For survivors, the process of police intervention is often traumatic. Many have a deep fear of law enforcement and have extreme panic and confusion during an operation. Survivors then are asked to give testimony to police regarding their abuse, which can be further traumatizing. It is not uncommon for victims to try and hide or escape from police during a rescue operation. Rescue is not the final step to freedom for each survivor, but, rather, it is the beginning of a lifelong process of healing.

Myth 11: The best way to fight trafficking is to take victims from the situation.

While it may seem like removing victims from their situation is the best way to help them, that action could be highly dangerous and even classified as kidnapping. Reporting to the proper authorities is the best action to take if you suspect trafficking. When the police are able to rescue the survivor and arrest the traffickers involved, significant impact is made. With the traffickers facing criminal charges, they are prevented from trafficking more victims, and human trafficking itself becomes a more dangerous crime for criminals.

Myth 12: All traffickers are willing participants in the crime.

Human trafficking is a complex issue deeply rooted in many systematic issues, and it’s not uncommon for traffickers to participate purely to escape their own victimization. The traffickers may have been trafficked themselves and seized the opportunity to ‘move up’ and avoid being trafficked further. They may also be so desperate that illegal activity seems like the only option.

Myth 13: Human trafficking is such an overwhelming issue. There’s nothing I can do about it.

There are so many ways you can fight human trafficking with what you already have. Here are a few ideas:

  • Fight labor trafficking by becoming an informed consumer and getting to know supply chains. To make it easy, you can download an app like Free World or Good On You.
  • Take a stand against sex trafficking by educating others on the issue and creating awareness.
  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit that works in the prevention, intervention, or aftercare of human trafficking.
  • Speak up when something just doesn’t feel right — you might just save someone’s life. Enter the Human Trafficking Hotline number into your phone so you can easily call or text whenever needed.



Trafficking is a complex issue that is often greatly misunderstood. However, with a little time and intention, you can get past the myths about human trafficking and educate yourself on this global injustice.

Do you want to get educated on human trafficking? Check out TraffickWatch Academy our free online course! 

1. “Slave.” Merriam Webster Dictionary.

2. “Human Trafficking Overview.” National Human Trafficking Hotline.