Below you will find a few myths behind Human Trafficking, how to recognize the signs and resources. If you need help or suspect someone is a victim of Human Trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733).


What is Human Trafficking?

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. The one exception involves minors and commercial sex; inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.

What is commercial sexual exploitation?

Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) is what happens to anyone sold in the sex industry. It’s in many ways synonymous with sex trafficking and includes all forms of sexual exploitation for profit, including escort, street and brothel prostitution, as well as pornography and stripping. Any time payment is exchanged for some kind of sexual objectification of another person it’s considered commercial sexual exploitation.

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Recognize the signs

According to The Polaris Project, the following are red flags for identifying potential victims of human trafficking.

  • Signs of physical abuse or evidence of verbal threats

  • Signs of emotional abuse or dependency

  • Signs of poor hygiene, fatigue or sleep deprivation

  • Signs of untreated illness or injuries

  • Controlled or restricted communications

  • No control over money or personal IDs

  • Appears to be with a “boyfriend” or multiple males

  • Little to no possessions, possibly carried in a plastic bag

  • Does not make eye contact

  • No knowledge of current or past whereabouts

  • Signs of fear, anxiety, tension or submission

  • Is not free to leave or come and go at will


Myths vs. truths of human trafficking

Myth: It’s always or usually a violent crime

  • Reality: By far the most pervasive myth about human trafficking is that it always - or often - involves kidnapping or otherwise physically forcing someone into a situation. In reality, most human traffickers use psychological means such as, tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sexual exploitation.

Myth: Only undocumented foreign nationals get trafficked in the United States

  • Reality: Polaris has worked on thousands of cases of trafficking involving foreign national survivors who are legally living and/or working in the United States.

Myth: Human trafficking involves moving, traveling or transporting a person across state or national borders

  • Reality: Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, which involves illegal border crossings. In fact, the crime of human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever. Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their own home towns, even their own homes.

Myth: All commercial sex is human trafficking

  • Reality: All commercial sex involving a minor is legally considered human trafficking. Commercial sex involving an adult is human trafficking if the person providing commercial sex is doing so against his or her will as a result of force, fraud or coercion.

Myth: If the trafficked person consented to be in their initial situation, then it cannot be human trafficking or against their will because they “knew better.”

  • Reality: Initial consent to commercial sex or a labor setting prior to acts of force, fraud, or coercion (or if the victim is a minor in a sex trafficking situation) is not relevant to the crime, nor is payment.

Myth: People being trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations/locked in/held against their will

  • Reality: That is sometimes the case. More often, however, people in trafficking situations stay for reasons that are more complicated. Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out - such as transportation or a safe place to live. Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person.

Myth: traffickers target victims they don’t know

  • Reality: Many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners, including spouses, and by family members, including parents.


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