The “Perfect Victim” and Other Myths

When we know better we do better. When we perpetuate myths about human trafficking we harm victims.  

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

Myth #1: Human Trafficking = Sex Trafficking

Truth: The phrases “human trafficking” and “sex trafficking” are not synonyms. When you use them synonymously you make labor trafficking victims invisible.  Human Trafficking can take different forms including labor trafficking and/or sex trafficking.

At its core, human trafficking is a form of compelled service. It is the use of force, fraud or coercion to control one person by another. It may entail physical or psychological violence. It may include hard or dangerous labor for little or no pay; and it involves economic exploitation – traffickers profit off of victims.

Myth #2: The “Perfect” Victim

It is a myth that there is such a thing as a “perfect” victim. The myth suggests that real victims always accept help, don’t return to their traffickers, and will quickly recognize us as their rescuers. This myth is dangerous because it suggests that victims who don’t fit this profile are not real victims, that they made a choice. By continuing to hold this myth, we re-victimize victims by telling them “you are only a victim when you do what we want you to do.” 

Truth: All individuals who have been compelled into service are victims. This includes minors in the sex industry and individuals who were forced, coerced or fraudulently tricked to provide labor or sexual services. By definition, victims have been exploited, and it is this exploitation that makes them victims, not their behavior during the exploitation or after. Further, when children are exploited there is never any possibility of consent.

Myth #3: “Our” kids are taken from malls and movie theaters

What do we signal when we add the modifier “our” before kids? Don’t ALL children have the right to be safe and free? Don’t use “our” carelessly when you talk about kids. It suggests that some kids are not ours. Movie theaters and malls are not uniquely hotbeds of human trafficking and most victims are not kidnapped from public spaces. This idea perpetuates sensationalist media myths and also encourages the “perfect victim” narrative above.

Truth: This does not mean that child trafficking is not a problem. It is a problem that minors are being exploited for labor and sold for sex. We just need real facts and there is no nationally representative, comprehensive sample of what victims look like. Traffickers prey on vulnerability in their victims. These vulnerabilities cross barriers of age, race, sex, class, gender, ethnicity, religion and nationality, as well as other differences. Kids can be victimized by people they know, who pretend to love them and who promise them a better life.

The bottom line about human trafficking is really quite simple: It is wrong to buy people and it is wrong to sell people. We just don’t do it and no one should. Anyone who is bought, sold or exploited is a victim. All victims have human dignity and deserve our care, help and respect.

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.

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.