Human trafficking and child exploitation are two of the most under-investigated and under-prosecuted crimes in our country. This tragic reality is not the result of apathy, but rather a profound lack of funding, resources, and political will combined with the general public’s misapprehension that these crimes are, in fact, being adequately addressed by their local law enforcement agencies.
During my experience working with local, state, and federal law enforcement and prosecuting these crime types, I learned quickly that there are several myths that need to be addressed if we, as a society, are going to make these survivors and victims a priority:
MYTH ONE: These Crimes Being Investigated and Prosecuted as Often as They Occur
Unlike cases involving guns, drugs, and street violence, instances of child exploitation and human trafficking are more difficult to quantify as they happen in private (often in people’s homes, hotels, or in the backs of businesses—in the case of labor trafficking). When people don’t see or hear about these crimes on a daily basis, they can assume that law enforcement have enough resources to handle these crimes and that they are, in fact, being addressed. Unfortunately, the use of targeted stings at hotels, which often result in multiple arrests of pimps and other low level traffickers, are not the answer to addressing the large-scale trafficking issues in our country. While these stings generate both media attention and statistics that are used to get funding (often for more low-level stings), they fail to address the larger issues or target the larger offenders. Standing, well—resourced human trafficking and child exploitation task forces [LINK INTERCEPT: https://operationlightshine.org/intercept/] are necessary for long-term success.
MYTH TWO: Victims of These Crimes Want to Be “Rescued”
Human trafficking and child exploitation cases are complicated for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that many victims don’t self-identify as victims. They may be romantically attached to their abuser/trafficker and/or rely on them for food, shelter, or other basic needs. If they’re children, then they often have to rely on their abuser for nearly everything. For this reason, trauma-informed arrests, interviews, prosecutions, and survivor care are essential. These types of cases may not generate “trafficking” convictions for this reason, but (most importantly) they can result in getting victims to a safe places with resources tailored to their situations.
MYTH THREE: Traffickers/Abusers Scoop Up Children and Other Victims off the Street
Both human trafficking and child exploitation cases often involve abusers reaching out to victims over the internet (chat features in games, on social media, or via dating sites), so the main link between victims and abusers is often a phone or other electronic device. Training about safe online practices is essential not just for kids, but everyone. [LINK FILTER FIRST: https://www.filterfirst.org/who-is-filter-first]