Dangerous Myths that Misrepresent

This post is the third in a 3 part series that seeks to dispel some common myths about human trafficking that are frequently stated but always wrong.

Myth #7: Average Age of Entry into the Sex Trade

It is often repeated that the average age of entry into the sex trade for girls is between 12-14 years of age.

Truth: There is no nationally representative, comprehensive sample of sex trafficking victims. That means that we cannot know the average age of entry into the trade.

So where does this data come from?

The origin of this statistic is from a 2001 University of Pennsylvania Study led by Dr. Richard Estes who did a comparative study of child sexual exploitation in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Only juveniles were surveyed in this study, not all sex trafficking victims. This means that it can’t measure the average age of entry into the sex trade – just the average among the children in his study. Even Dr. Estes warns against drawing conclusions based on his findings stating, “Any numbers you come across, even mine, represent best estimates of the situation. Because of the secretive and hidden nature of the problem it simply is not possible to get an accurate “head count”. 

The truth is that sex trafficking victims include boys and girls, women and men. Victims can be younger than age 12 and can also be adults. A 35 year old victim is as much a victim as a 13 year old. Victims are targeted due to their vulnerability, not their age.

Myth #8: Success = Criminal Prosecution

Truth: Many cases of human trafficking (labor and sex trafficking) are not prosecuted and some prosecutions are actually harmful to victims. The top priority should be to support the victims, then pursue the traffickers. What the police know and what the prosecutor can prove in court are two separate things. There are many different ways to measure success and criminal prosecution is not the only way. When we use that word we must be clear about what it means, as successful prosecution of a trafficker can be the result of a victim being threatened with jail or forced to participate in something he or she does not want to.

Myth #9: Sexual Assault only happens in Sex Trafficking Cases

Truth: Many labor trafficking victims are sexually assaulted and harassed. When sexual assaults occur we need to use that language – in all human trafficking cases, but especially in those cases involving commercial sex.

Myth #10: Super Bowl = More Sex Trafficking

Truth: There is little to no evidence to support the claim that sex trafficking spikes during the Super Bowl. We do not have baseline data on any city’s level of sex trafficking; and if we don’t know the prevalence of sex trafficking in a community, we cannot measure a “spike” in trafficking. The problem with this myth is that it feeds into a dangerous ideology that sex trafficking is only a problem on certain days in a community, and that buyers of sex aren’t our neighbors and friends but rather outsiders that come into our community.  

The truth is that people we know buy sex and that sex and labor trafficking are daily problems in communities across the United States. 

We need to fight human trafficking all 365 days of the year – focusing on one day, takes the focus off of the other 364 days of human trafficking.

Take Action:

  • Now that you know these myths be sure that you don’t perpetuate them.
  • Share these myths with other caring individuals who are working to fight human trafficking.
  • Get acquainted with the “Perfect Victim” and other myths and “Statistical Shortcomings: Bad Data Hurts Victims”.

This blog was written by Carrie Booth Walling (MHTTF) based on the work of Bridgette Carr, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic.