As our communities become more aware of the prevalance of trafficking, we must be wary of common myths and misinformation that can victimize, romanticize, simplify, or patronize the experience of sexual exploitation.

We can best learn about trafficking and sexual exploitation from those who have experienced it. It’s crucial that we don’t create an expectation or obligation for survivors to share their stories, but for those who have chosen to- we must listen and center their voices as experts to form a truthful understanding of the realities of sexual exploitation. We must believe survivors, especially when their shared accounts call into question the details or narratives we might believe about how trafficking happens, who gets trafficked, and how to combat trafficking.

Myths can be dangerous in creating further harm and difficulty for victims:

  • to identify their experience as exploitation if they don’t fit the common “mold” of who gets trafficked or what trafficking looks like
  • to find help and support if their exploitation doesn’t match the expectations of public service workers or outreach programs
  • to correct, convince & re-educate family, community, and members of the public on what exploitation actually is like

As we listen to victims and survivors through our programs and public advocates like Beatrice Littlechief, Rebecca Bender, Natasha Falle, and others- we have identified the following “common myths” and realities.

“We might think someone is getting paid for their services, it’s just like any other job.”

But really, many trafficking victims never keep any of the money paid for their exploitation – traffickers may provide small amounts of money while maintaining financial control to keep them compliant & unable to leave.

“Individuals know what they are getting into, so they cannot claim to have been trafficked.”

Many victims may have low self esteem and be forced or deceived into compliance. Even when they have foreknowledge of the situation, they may lack the power or ability to leave and end their exploitation. Their reality might be far, far, different than what they expected or were led to believe.

If they had studied more and worked harder they could have done a different job, but they chose something easy”

Although every victim’s situation and experience is entirely unique, trafficking is highly influenced by larger social systems of poverty, violence, racism, sexism, intergenerational trauma and the ongoing impacts of colonialism. These larger forces are beyond any individual’s control. Our critique is best directed at the systems that result in lack of economic or educational opportunity, rather than blaming those most impacted.

“The individual had freedom of movement, so they weren’t really trafficked.”

Although some traffickers forcibly confine their victims; but many more control them using threats, psychological coercion, and manipulation. In many cases, traffickers are also able to make credible threats against the family members of the victim. Physical violence against victims can easily convince them that these threats are serious.

“The individuals committed unlawful acts, so they are not trafficking victims.”

Traffickers often force their victims to commit unlawful acts such as prostitution, drug, theft or immigration offences. Trafficked persons are victims of crime and should be treated with compassion, dignity, and respect. Committing unlawful acts does not negate the exploitation someone is experiencing, or make them deserving of exploitation.

“Canadian citizens cannot be trafficked. That kinda stuff doesn’t happen here.”

In Canada, victims include Canadians as well as foreign nationals. Trafficking doesn’t require crossing of international borders, as it’s about victim exploitation.

“Individuals who don’t try to escape are not trafficking victims.”

Victims are often under threats that make escape impossible or are under control similar to that experienced by victims of domestic abuse.

“It can’t be trafficking if the trafficker and victim are related or married.”

This is like the old fable that it is legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife. Being married or related does not give someone the right to victimize another. Some victims have agreed to marry their exploiters in the false hope of lessening or ending their abuse.

“Traffickers and recruiters are always men.”

Women also recruit victims, enforce discipline for traffickers, and in some instances are traffickers themselves.

HRC has been debunking these myths on social media recently, and we invite you to join us in challenging common misinformation about trafficking and sexual exploitation whenever you come across these myths. Check out our “Resources” section for books, articles, videos and more that survivors have shared.