That Doesn’t Happen Here Does It?

SAGE is located in an affluent suburban area outside of Philadelphia. One of the most common questions we get when talking to people about human trafficking is, “But that doesn’t happen around here, does it?” The answer is: yes, human trafficking happens everywhere. It happens in cities, rural areas, quiet suburban neighborhoods, and upscale areas. It happens here. The neighborhoods where it doesn’t look like it is happening are areas where it is more thoroughly hidden. Part of the reason people are unaware that this is happening in their communities is simply a lack of understanding of what human trafficking looks like. Let’s take a closer look at what human trafficking, and sex trafficking specifically, is and how it manifests itself in the U.S. 

Myths and Misconceptions

One of the biggest things that gets in the way of helping survivors are the misconceptions and misinformation about what trafficking is. When you think of human trafficking, what do you think of? A common idea is that human trafficking only happens when someone is kidnapped and forcibly held against their will. Another common misconception is that human trafficking happens primarily overseas, or if it does happen in the U.S. it happens primarily to foreign nationals. These circumstances certainly do happen, but human trafficking is much broader than any one of these things. 

Fact: Many survivors of human trafficking have been trafficked by someone they know, often a romantic partner or family member. 

Fact: Human trafficking is not always a crime that involves physical force or restraint. Most traffickers use psychological coercion, threatening or manipulation as a means of control. 

Fact: Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, which is when people are moved over borders illegally. Human trafficking does not require any movement. A person can be trafficked within their community and sometimes even from their own home.

Fact: U.S. citizens and foreign nationals are both victims of human trafficking in the U.S.

Fact: Because of the abuse, fear, shame, misplaced loyalty, manipulation, and coercion happening in trafficking situations, women who are actively being trafficked may not present to outsiders as wanting to leave their situation. Women in “the life” may not identify as victims even when they are actively being trafficked.

Legal Definition

Human trafficking is broken into two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Human trafficking is exploitation by use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel labor or sexual acts. Additionally, under federal law any minor who is induced into commercial sex acts is considered a victim of human trafficking whether or not force, fraud, or coercion are used, (22 USC § 7102). This means that any commercial sex act involving someone who has been manipulated or coerced and any commercial sex act involving a minor are considered sex trafficking. 

Demand in Our Communities

If there are people buying sex in your area then human trafficking is likely happening too. People who buy sex may or may not know whether the person they are buying is being trafficked. There is a huge overlap between prostitution and human trafficking. Statistics on people who buy sex indicate that the majority of buyers are men who make $100,000 or more. So while it may appear that trafficking and the sex trade are not happening in suburban and affluent areas, there is a high demand in those areas. In these contexts trafficking may be more hidden, often taking the form of strip clubs, illicit massage businesses, escort services, etc. 

The Good News

Knowing what trafficking looks like and that it is a problem that occurs close to home gives us power to combat it. The good news is that every person has the power to help eradicate this form of modern slavery. Decreasing demand is just as important as supporting survivors in their recovery. Anyone can take part in reducing demand by educating the people around them about what human trafficking is and how it happens in our communities. This can occur in casual individual conversations or organized community events. Another way to help is to support organizations like SAGE that are helping survivors in their recovery. 


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