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H.E.A.T. Watch – Stop Human Exploitation and Trafficking

Alameda County H.E.A.T. Watch Tip Line:
1-510-208-4959
Office of the District Attorney, Alameda County
Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney

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Eight Myths About Human Trafficking

Myths and misconceptions about human trafficking color public perception of children in the sex trade and victims of labor exploitation.

By battling our preconceived notions of what human trafficking is, we can help these victims.

COMMON MYTHS:

MYTH: Human trafficking is sex trafficking.

Many still believe that the buying and selling children for sex only happens abroad, and certainly not where they live. In fact, 83% of trafficking victims in the United States were American-born and cases of human trafficking have been reported in every state in the US. The sexual exploitation of minors is a rapidly growing and highly lucrative domestic industry, no less serious because international borders are not crossed.

Additionally, labor trafficking exists in many forms, hidden in plain sight. Victims may work in restaurants where you eat, construction companies working on your home, or the nail salon shop you visit. Victims may have picked the fruit you eat, created the clothes you wear, or harvested the coffee you drink. One study estimates that more than 3 million people in the U.S. have been victims of labor trafficking.

MYTH: Trafficking? Not in my back yard.

Many still believe that the buying and selling children for sex only happens abroad, or certainly not where they live. In fact, 83% of trafficking victims in the United States were American-born and cases of human trafficking have been reported in every state in the US.

The sexual exploitation of minors is a rapidly growing and highly lucrative domestic industry, no less serious because international borders are not crossed.

MYTH: They can't be exploited if they were already sexually active.

Our society places a premium on being chaste, that is to say, on virginity. Many still believe “girls deserve what they get.” By labeling a child as “promiscuous," our own words shift responsibility to the child and away from the trafficker, where it rightfully belongs.

MYTH: They're young but they've chosen this life.

Many do not view sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of children as child abuse because of the belief that the child is consenting to sex. However, by California law, consent is irrelevant because a child under the age of 18 is legally incapable of giving it.

There are many factors that contribute to a child being sexually exploited and all of them begin with an unbalanced power dynamic between the exploited and the exploiter.

  • Fraud: Many children are tricked by “Romeo” pimps posing as boyfriends, offering false promises of love and happiness. Once lured, they are controlled through psychological pressure or physical violence
  • Pressure: Traffickers know psychological pressure works well so they use it all the time. They make their victims feel alone, prey on religious beliefs ("God put you here for me") or on the instablity of their family life. Unlike beatings, you cannot photograph pressure, and it is not easy for victims to discuss. Coercion eludes even the coerced.
  • Force:Guerilla” pimps are becoming increasingly more common. They kidnap girls and keep them as prisoners.

MYTH: A prostitute is a prostitute.

Giving a child the label “prostitute” implies a concept of choice and suggests an element of voluntariness. The term “prostitute” is often associated with criminal wrongdoing, and “child prostitutes” are typically arrested and treated as criminals. In reality CSEC are victims of trickery and abuse - CSEC are prostituted not prostitutes. Exposing the reality of “pimp control,” the myth of consent and free choice, and the reason these concepts do not apply to vulnerable and gullible populations, is a necessary precursor to saving children and prosecuting traffickers.

Myths and misconceptions about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), color public perception of children in the sex trade and prevent us from seeing CSEC as a real crime. It impedes a sympathetic community response and hampers efforts to identify and protect CSEC victims, as well as investigate and prosecute traffickers. Despite significant advances, many still subscribe to myths and stereotypes that fuel our CSEC epidemic.

MYTH: It only happens to girls.

While the majority of sexually exploited youth are females, there is still a significant population of young males who are being exploited. Data on males being sexually trafficked is tragically sparse - due in part to the belief that since boys are bigger and stronger, they can't be made into sexual assault victims like females. This is categorically not true as the force an exploiter has over their victim is often psychological, not physical.

It is estimated that 95% of their coercive sexual experiences will be with an adult male.This causes a different kind of trauma for males, who identify as heterosexual but are forced into homosexual relations.

MYTH: If you are an undocumented immigrant, you cannot be labor trafficked.

Under Federal and California wage and hour law, undocumented immigrants have the same rights to fair labor practices as all documented and legal residents. These laws include the right to overtime pay, minimum wage, breaks, and tips.

If an individual is forced to work through fraud or coercion, is not paid his/her fair wage, and is forced to work long hours, then this individual is a trafficked victim, no matter his/her immigration status.

MYTH: If you report a case of labor trafficking as an undocumented immigrant, you will be deported.

If you are a victim of a crime, including labor trafficking, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will not deport you. The H.E.A.T. Watch Program and District Attorney’s Office prioritizes the safety and dignity of all people in Alameda over immigration status.