Debunking Common Myths that the Media Spreads about Human Trafficking



Human trafficking is often falsely portrayed by the media as something glamorous or entertaining. Movies and songs portray human trafficking as something unrealistic, involving gangs, mafias, etc. Many influential news sites focus on few trafficking cases, making human trafficking seem rare. At first, the media’s misrepresentation of human trafficking may seem harmless, but it isn’t. The media’s misrepresentation causes people to believe that human trafficking always involves rape or transportation, which isn’t always true. When a victim of trafficking tries to reach out for help, it may be difficult because their situation isn’t ideal with what people always know. While the media may spread some truth about trafficking, it can also exaggerate and stretch the truth to make their work seem more compelling. 

Movies/songs aren’t the most reliable source of information and aren’t educational. The entertainment industry reinforces many of society’s norms or “expectations” for societal issues.  The media characterizes human trafficking to be something glamorous or thrilling. It romanticizes the idea of being forced or someone dominating you. Songs like “Peer pressure” by Julia Micheals,” Blame it on the Alcohol” by Jamie Foxx, “I’m still a guy” by Brad Paisley all romanticize dominance and forced consent.


Myth 1: All Human Trafficking involves sex

 The two most common types of human trafficking are labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is the crime of using coercion, fraud, or violence to force a victim to sell sex. News sites and cinema makers often only display sex trafficking. There are more types of trafficking that the media often chooses not to focus on: labor trafficking, domestic servitude, and debt bondage are all examples of human trafficking as well. Experts say that labor trafficking is more difficult to spot because law enforcement officials and community members often are unfamiliar with the signs of labor trafficking. Experts estimate that there are about 3-4x more cases of labor trafficking than cases of sex trafficking globally, but sex trafficking receives more awareness, especially in the US. 


Myth 2: Human Trafficking happens in underground industries or illegally: 

  In the music video for “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, she appears to be kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. In the end, she manages to kill her buyer. While this is just a music video and is not meant to be educational, it points out how the entertainment industry views human trafficking. Gaga’s music video of “Bad Romance” makes sex trafficking and forced prostitution seem enticing and entertaining. The buyer seems to be part of an underground crime network, which leads us to question: Why is trafficking only associated with crime rings? A common myth that is widespread by the media is that human trafficking happens in underground industries or illegally. There have been many cases of human trafficking in industries such as restaurants, factories, and construction. The setting of labor trafficking cases can vary in many cases, from illegal industries and legal businesses, and buyers of sex trafficking victims are often average, everyday men with no connection to crime rings.


Myth 3: Only women and girls can be victims of human trafficking

People often think that the traffickers are male and victims are females. Boys are at risk of trafficking, too, and though most confirmed cases involve male traffickers, women can also be perpetrators of this violence. The media and news sources often only focus on female victims as well as male traffickers. Prominent news sites such as the New York Times commonly focus on cases with female victims. Male victims are commonly not talked about by the media because of toxic masculinity, homophobia, stigma, lack of services, outreach teams, and law enforcement not looking for boys or referring to services.


Myth 4: Victims of trafficking are physically unable to leave their location 

When people think of trafficking, they often think of the 2008 movie “Taken.” In this story, a girl is kidnapped and trafficked by an Albanian sex-trafficking ring in Paris. Her father, Liam Neeson, an ex-CIA operative, has to rescue his daughter. A common misconception about human trafficking is that the victim is physically restrained. Many victims of trafficking are instead held captive figuratively by debt bondage, manipulation, the lack of money, transportation, and safety. A common tactic that many traffickers use to keep their victims is psychological manipulation. They trick their victims into a better life, more money, a stable job, threaten them or blackmail them. Victims who aren’t financially stable may stay with their traffickers because they have nowhere else to live. They also may lack the ability and transportation to escape, some are scared that their traffickers will track them, and many more. Trafficking doesn’t always involve physical restraint, but it often involves psychological manipulation. 


Myth 5: Trafficking only happens in developing countries or poverty areas

 Because trafficking is always mistaken to only happen in developing countries or poverty areas, it is difficult to recognize human trafficking when it is right in front of our eyes. Human trafficking is a global issue. Labor trafficking and sex trafficking continue to be a huge issue in the United States, mostly due to unequal access to resources, financial stability, and power. Poverty is a huge risk factor for human trafficking because it can make a person vulnerable, but even people with money and support systems can be targeted. 


The media spreads a lot of misconceptions about trafficking. Recognizing the truth about these misconceptions is a way to help the fight against human trafficking. These myths can be harmful to victims who’ve experienced human trafficking. Discerning the truth from false information helps us recognize trafficking when it is hard to see. If news sites, songs, and movies take more time to focus on the truth about human trafficking instead of spreading misconceptions, it would help people see the truth about human trafficking. You can read more about how the media influences our perceptions of human trafficking here.