This month is human trafficking awareness month and on Instagram and Facebook we are sharing some common myths that people believe when it comes to human trafficking. Myths like, only women and girls are trafficked. Or, that human trafficking only happens in certain places, to certain people and only a certain type of person is meant to care about and fight against it.
We are calling this myth the niche human trafficking myth. It is the belief that human trafficking is a niche issue that doesn’t apply to or involve humanity at large. While it is admirable that people care enough to do something about it, most of us are excused because it isn’t a big enough issue for us to fight as a collective. And if we do fight it, we are relegated to giving money to organizations that provide tangible help like, beds to sleep in.
It is because of this niche human trafficking myth that it is hard for organizations that promote anti-trafficking awareness to have an audience with larger churches, funding organizations or leadership entities because the work of awareness is not often quantifiable. Often we don’t see the fruit of awareness seeds planted until down the road. Even the more tangible work of coming along survivors of trafficking and exploitation takes time and money and even those numbers aren’t huge. It is more attractive to fund work that feeds people (not that this isn’t valid work, it most definitely is) because it is quantifiable. You can see a dollar turn into food and it makes the giver feel like their resources have made a vast difference.
The biggest problem with this niche human trafficking myth is that it is in fact a myth. Untrue. Human trafficking is not a niche problem that only affects the few and therefore only needs to be fought by the few. Human trafficking and exploitation is systemic and is being allowed to grow and expand because people believe this myth that it isn’t their problem to solve.
Just today, I sat in a conversation with another anti-trafficking nonprofit leader and we outlined how human trafficking – both labor trafficking and sexual exploitation – were happening in factories, the construction industry, immigration and at a high school. All within a ten minute drive from the comfortable Caribou Coffee that we found ourselves sitting in, in the suburbs. Because this myth that human trafficking doesn’t happen in our “safe suburban communities” is believed we are not equipped as communities when the realities of human trafficking show up around us.
So what is the truth that we can use to bury this myth in our hearts and minds? The truth is that each of us has a unique opportunity in our places of influence every day to fight human trafficking. As we allow our eyes to be opened through awareness, we will begin to see the human beings around us differently. We will see how our conversations, choices, and actions can change to begin to promote a culture that honors humans and listens to their stories. We can be places where stories can be heard in compassion and safety and where we begin to risk on behalf of those who are vulnerable in our midst.
The truth is that the work to change a culture that has incubated and normalized the exploitation of humans has barely begun. And since the reasons that we have modern day slavery are systemic and affect all of us, it is going to take each one of us first become aware and second be willing to listen and third be willing to risk on behalf of others.
Human trafficking is as far from a niche issue as we can get. And in order to change a system that promotes using people as a means to an end each and every one of us is going to have to step into the fight.