8 Myths about Trafficking Victims and Survivors that Society Believes


1.  We chose this life.

No little girl comes to career day in elementary school and announces to her teacher and classmates that she wants to grow up to be a prostituted woman – to be raped, beaten, robbed, and exploited.   No little girl looks forward to the day she will be touched by men old enough to be her father.  Rather, a series of events in our life removed all other options until prostitution was the lesser of two evils, or the only option left.  Also understand that life is not a series of individual events, but rather a cyclical flow, meaning that until you see the entire picture, you won’t understand the decisions we had to make.


2.  We are just waiting to be “rescued”.

If we’ve been prostituted for a long time, chances are we don’t identify as a “trafficking victim”, or a victim at all – in fact, we’ve started to identify with our abusers (Stockholm syndrome).  Finding our freedom has to be on our terms, and it is not a singular event – it is a process that can take a minimum of 3 years to deprogram and re-integrate into society.


3.  We are lazy.

Just because we haven’t worked a “9-to-5” job doesn’t mean we are lazy – in fact most of us have be made to work 12-18 hour days for years, with no vacations or down time.  On top of that, complete indoctrination into “The Game” means that we have undergone repeated trauma and intense brainwashing, both of which physically alter the brain.  So when we say we want to leave our abuser and the lifestyle, but you don’t see action (or the action YOU want to see!), please understand that these changes can manifest as anxiety and/or depression, obsessive thoughts, and protective behaviors that appear as aggressiveness or pride.  Our culture believes strongly in self-improvement, and so seeing us acting in these ways is misinterpreted as “just not wanting to try”.  Oftentimes we appear to be entrenched in our belief system, and we are – but it is rooted in our biological brain composition.

4.  We are uneducated.

Sure, a lack of education and opportunities might have increased our vulnerabilities.  But a recent study conducted by the Justice Department and the Urban Institute shows that a lack of basic education is not something that is lacking.  And book smarts aside, we are incredibly “street smart”, observant and driven.  We are oftentimes incredible entrepreneurs who have unfortunately been mislead, and giving us the opportunity to show you how intelligent we are restores our faith in ourselves.


5.  We are permanently damaged goods.

This is an outright lie!  As survivors, we are wonderful mothers, supportive partners, and successful professionals.  We matter, and we do not deserve to be ignored or discriminated against by our family, friends, employers, health care professionals or within the justice system.  Trauma-informed resources can help us find freedom from our traffickers, and our vulnerable circumstances that led us to be victimized to begin with.  With the right guidance, therapy, and support network, we are able to go on to do amazing things.


6.  With enough jail and consequences, we can fix our problem.

There’s a big difference between sending us to prison where we are not able to be sold, and we have limited contact with our trafficker, and finding lasting solutions to and healing from our vulnerabilities.  It’s easy to “stay clean” while being locked up, but if we aren’t given the tools and resources we need, we will find ourselves right back in the places and relationships that got us in trouble to begin with.  Unlike other illegal activities, prostitution is often our only option to put a roof over our heads and food on our table for our families, so we often have high rates of recidivism when we are not accurately identified and helped.


7.    We just don’t have access to government assistance.

Food, healthcare, housing, child care, and transportation are all top priorities when we first find our freedom – but long-term government dependence is NOT a solution to the problem.  In fact, many of us were on assistance either before or during our time of being exploited, and if anything, it only added to our vulnerabilities.  On top of that, being told that our best option is depending on “handouts” reinforces the belief that we are damaged goods who will never amount to anything.  We want to work hard, and we need to be empowered and encouraged to pursue our dreams and accomplish our goals.  We need to know that we are capable of doing these things on our own.  And we need YOU to walk alongside us as we find our freedom, heal from our traumas, and build a bright future.


8.  We must have done something to be where we are.

A lot of times, you are looking for a reason that will help you understand how we ended up being trafficked, or maybe to reassure yourself that you or your children are not going to end up being trafficked.  Being sexually abused as a child did cause us to be trafficked.  Working in a gentleman’s club did not cause us to be trafficked.  Growing up in a divorced home did not cause us to be trafficked.  Nothing we did “made” us be trafficked, nor does it excuse the abuser!  Stop the victim-blaming.  It is not our fault.



Glorification and Acceptance of “The Life”

Pop culture has exposed us to so much of the pimp culture that we are now completely desensitized to its destructive powers.  The music, movies, social media trends, fashion and our language have slowly adapted to accepting a glorified version of what pimps and sex workers’ roles are that we think nothing of our children listening to their lyrics at school dances, or dressing the way their favorite artists do.  Little do we know that with these small gestures, we are condoning the continued exploitation of our women and children.

Chris Brown Caught with a Prostitute?


Reducing Demand

From the legal perspective, reducing the demand for sex workers translates into a reduction in the number of women and children supplied by traffickers.  Harsher consequences for those soliciting the services of these women, and for those supplying them, will absolutely have an impact, as those who may have previously considered taking part will be deterred as the level of risk rises to an uncomfortable level.  Reducing demand from this end can be done through a variety of ways – everything from posting mugshots on billboards of those convicted of soliciting a prostitute, to capital punishment for those convicted of exploiting a child.

We will continue, as a society, to see the exploitation and demand for sex workers as long as mis-education and the breakdown of the family unit exists.  Truly ending commercial sexual exploitation requires addressing the root causes that contribute to creating a vulnerable women or child, addressing domestic violence and poverty that lead to an over-exposure of violence and desperation, and addressing the messages that we send our youth about the value of their bodies, and the definition of success.  In addition to this, we need to address the mis-education and stereotypes that have saturated our society when it comes to sex workers and the truth behind what is referred to as “the Life.”

Utah Law Maker Wants Death Penalty for Sex Traffickers


No Justice in the Justice System

Time for some cold, hard truth:

A handful of states have started to pass policies allowing trafficking victims to have their records related to the time they were trafficked sealed. This seems like an excellent step forward, and from the outside appears to give survivors a chance at a new life with a clean slate.

However …

1. Most victims have records in multiple states. To get a victim’s entire related record sealed, they must either travel to or hire representation in each state, and go through the proceedings in each state. (And remember, not all states have passed this legislation!)

2. The process is lengthy, and as there are few cases across the nation that have been successfully completed, there are multiple unexpected obstacles that can arise – one for example – here in Colorado while the new law exists, they do not yet have the court form to file! In addition, each case takes around a year, if not more, from start to finish. This requires multiple appearances in court, filing necessary documents, lawyer meetings and fees, etc.

3. There is an expectation that the victim provide some sort of proof that they were trafficked during the time of their arrests that they’d like sealed. More often than not, victims either do not have enough “proof”, or they do not want to bring evidence before a court that could later require them testifying in open court in front of their trafficker.

4. If there is no trafficking-related law in a particular state, or the victim cannot supply enough proof of being trafficked, many states allow for a record to be sealed after a certain amount of time, usually around three year. THREE YEARS!! What are they supposed to do in the meantime while their past continues to haunt them?

5. While the Equal Employment Opportunity laws here in the US prohibit discrimination based on criminal history, we all know that this does not necessarily mean potential employers comply every time. So while a victim is waiting patiently for their record to be sealed, how are they supposed to find employment/housing/college entrance?

While our nation is slowly making progress in legislation dealing with trafficking and helping victims and survivors better themselves, there is still no justice in the justice system for these women. For those coming out of a trafficking situation, the uphill battle can be harder than its worth (or at least it seems that way to her!), and for this reason many find themselves re-trafficked.

How can we as a community surround and empower these women despite these seemingly impossible obstacles as they try to reintegrate? And more importantly, how can we as a society strengthen at-risk populations so that they can avoid be trafficked to begin with?

One thing is for certain – we cannot wait for the court OR the welfare system to “help” them – we can all take a role in lifting these women up and supporting them!


Resources for Survivors

Trafficked women are often tattooed with their pimp’s name, street name, gang, or phrase/logo.  This is a part of the bonding and grooming process, and it is something that is a permanent visual reminder of the abuse and exploitation a woman experienced, long after she has found freedom.  Tattoos can be found just below the hairline, on a victim’s chest or throat, their wrists or ankle, or above their pubic area.  Large tattoos with trafficker’s identifiers can be found down a victim’s leg or arm, along the side of their torso, and sometimes on the victim’s face, lip or eyelid.  Branding their product in this way is another form of dehumanization, and it is not uncommon for woman who has been trafficked for many years to have upwards of 8-10 names on her body.

The needs of a trafficking survivor are numerous and varied, from financial support, education and employment, counseling services, housing, transportation, and family networking.  But a little known need is being able to move on from being viewed as someone else’s product for sale.

Our Sex Traffickers Branded Us, But They Won’t Own Us Forever


Training The Hotel Industry

When Wyndam announced they were donating $750,000 and 1 million reward points to human trafficking awareness and prevention efforts, it marked a new stage in education efforts.  As hotel chains become aware of the fact that abuse and exploitation are just as likely to occur in 5-star establishments as they are hourly motels off the highway, some are starting to take responsibility for training their staff on recognizing the potential signs.  Whether it is a red flag at check-in, or something housekeeping observes on daily cleaning rounds, a hotel’s staff can play a crucial role in responding to crime occurring on their property.  While some hotels keep a log book of local prostitute’s photos and online advertisements, and turn them away when they attempted to check in, awareness to the depth of the issue of human trafficking is creating a shift in how hotel staff respond to potential situations.

How to Spot a Sex Trafficking Victim at a Hotel


Disproportionate Gender Ratios Lead to Increased Risk of Human Trafficking

Throughout history, where ever there has been a substantial disproportionate ratio of men-to-women, prostitution has flourished.  And when you stop to think about it, it absolutely makes sense: a large population of (single) men is usually associated with a temporary economic or political flux, or employment that requires long hours, hard labor, and a transient lifestyle.  That is why military bases, naval ports, business conventions and the oil industry all attract prostitution.  And with the sex industry comes the human trafficking that is prevalent within it.  A large influx in the male population often also brings with it an increase of drug use, violence, high pay and lonely nights, a recipe for disaster for local law enforcement who is often ill-equipped to deal with issues on a larger scale than what they were previously accustomed to, but it is also a recipe for “success” for a trafficker and the girls under his control.

War and Prostitution: Where There Are Soldiers, Pimps Follow