When you think of human trafficking, what do you think of?
Most of the time, it looks like something out of a movie. Someone gets kidnapped by a stranger and is forced into an illegal industry. But experts say this isn't always the case.
The Department of Homeland Security has highlighted six myths and misconceptions surrounding human trafficking.
25 News reporter Sydney Isenberg sat down with Jessica Sykora, Director of Training at Unbound Waco, to debunk those thoughts.
Myth: 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.
“So in Central Texas, we really have seen all of the major forms of human trafficking. Those would be labor trafficking, adult sex trafficking, and sex trafficking of minors, which are anyone who is 17-years-old or younger," Sykora explained.
But why Central Texas? Location. Location. Location.
"Here in Central Texas, we are on I-35, but we're just a hop, skip, and jump over to Highway 45, and then Highway 10 across from Houston to San Antonio is kind of what makes up what law enforcement would call the Texas Triangle. We learn from them that that really is the hotbed of trafficking in our state," said Sykora.
Myth: Human trafficking victims are only foreign born individuals and those who are poor.
With local trafficking comes local victims.
"They really can look like anyone. They could look like any one of us, any local. You know, demographics that are represented locally, we have served victims of that demographic. We've had victims who were exploited for the first time in their mid- to late thirties. We have victims who we came across in their early adulthood, but their exploitation has been going on since their early teens. So really across the community, we have served victims in all different types," said the director of training.
Myth: 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.
"So frequently, what we're seeing is that the labor trafficking victims are actually working in jobs where there may even be at other people in the same business who are legal employees, so they can be blended right in with regular employees," Sykora said.
Here in Central Texas, that usually involves working in a restaurant or a massage parlor.
Myth: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same.
"Smuggling is a crime against a border. Smuggling is I took you from, you know, Canada to the United States. We crossed a border, or I took you from Texas to Louisiana," explained Sykora. "Trafficking, you do not have to move anywhere. Trafficking is a crime against a person, and so we have had victims who were trafficked in their own homes on webcam by strangers. That victim never left, never met the trafficker, never met the buyers, was completely exploited through social media and technology. She is still a sex trafficking victim because web sex was exchanged for something of value to the third party."
Myth: Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public.
"I wish this was the case because unfortunately, we know that human trafficking victims rarely make outcries. Many times it's because they themselves don't understand the full the definition of what qualifies as human trafficking," Sykora shared.
Often times, victims form trauma bonds with their captors, who typically aren't strangers.
"The number one way victims of trafficking are introduced or groomed through the process from being just a vulnerable person to being an exploited person is highly relational. It's someone who seeks to get to know them, often through social media or online chat rooms, someone who earns their trust and finds out kind of what are this person's needs or desires," Sykora continued.
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.