Human trafficking is something many of us have heard of but don't fully understand. What does it look like? Where is it happening? Is there anything I can do to help?
The Department of Homeland Security has highlighted six myths and misconceptions surrounding human trafficking.
Myth 1: Human trafficking does not occur in the United States. It only happens in other countries.
Human trafficking is not something that only happens in far away places. It's happening here in Texas. It's even happening in our own backyard.
But why the Brazos Valley? Location. Location. Location.
The Brazos Valley is centrally located between major Texas cities, giving traffickers easy opportunities to transport their victims.
Myth 2: Human trafficking victims are only foreign born individuals and those who are poor.
Experts say with local trafficking comes local victims. Victims typically fit demographics that are seen locally.
Victim advocates say age is also not a factor. Some victims have been exploited since their early teens, while others may have been first exploited in their mid- to late-thirties.
Myth 3: Human trafficking is only sex trafficking.
Think of human trafficking as an umbrella. Under that umbrella is sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Labor trafficking is anytime there's an element of force or fraud that's holding a person to a job.
A common misconception is these victims are forced to work in illegal industries, but that's not always the case.
Experts say labor trafficking victims often work in jobs where their coworkers are legal employees, so traffickers can blend their victims right in.
In Central Texas, that usually involves working in a restaurant or a massage parlor.
Myth 4: Individuals must be forced or coerced into commercial sex acts to be victims of human trafficking.
According to Homeland Security, under federal law, anyone under the age of 18 who is "induced to perform commercial sex acts" is a victim of human trafficking. This means if a person under 18
Myth 5: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same.
Smuggling is defined as a crime against a border, while trafficking is defined as a crime against a person. Victims can be trafficked without ever leaving their homes through social media and technology.
Myth 6: Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public.
Unfortunately, trafficking victims typically don't make outcries. Experts say it is often because the victim does not fully understand that they are being trafficked.
Victims also form trauma bonds with their captors, who typically aren't strangers. This makes outcries difficult.
So how can you stop human trafficking? Essentially it comes down to this- keep your eyes open and trust your gut.
If you or someone you know is the victim of human trafficking, or you would like to report possible human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. You can also text HELP or INFO to 233733. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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