Trafficking headlines get a lot of attention.
Most people glance at the alarming number of arrests in a headline and are reminded that human trafficking is much more prevalent than they thought.
But these articles are much more complex than they seem. The devil is in the details. If you look at the actual article, it will tell you a lot about the approach law enforcement is taking, especially if they been properly trained or not on trafficking.
We typically assume that these articles are naming the number of arrests of buyers and traffickers. Yet if you look closer, traffickers are almost never arrested during these operations. And for good reason. The traffickers usually aren’t on site with their victims, and it takes law enforcement looking through phones and talking to victims to start to get enough information and evidence to arrest a trafficker (which likely won’t be the day of the sting).
So, it’s just the buyers getting arrested? Yes and no. In this specific article it states, “Officials said 161 individuals were arrested for attempting to buy sex, while 50 were taken into custody for trying to sell services” Yes, buyers are getting arrested. But who are the people who are, “trying to sell services”?
Trafficking victims. Plain and simple they are arresting trafficking victims during trafficking stings.
The article says they identified 6 trafficking victims. Maybe those were individuals who were ready to disclose or had obvious signs of force, fraud, or coercion. But it’s very likely that almost all of those 50 people who were arrested were being trafficked too. Research shows that about 90% of people in “sex work” or prostitution are being trafficked.
During trafficking stings, anyone engaged in the commercial sex industry, should be treated like a victim and offered services, not jail time. The reality is that most victims are not going to disclose during a sting, especially when they have been caught off guard and are being detained. If police are waiting for a plea for help during these stings to determine who is a victim or not, they have been terribly mislead on how trafficking works.
So why are police arresting victims and then publicizing it? Most of it boils down to a lack of training. They don’t understand the nuances of trafficking. The lack of disclosure. The complexities of trauma bonds. Or how to properly screen for force, fraud, and coercion. They don’t understand that most people who are selling sex are not doing it from a place of empowerment or free will. They assume these victims are criminals.
Next time you see a trafficking headline, don’t take it at face value. Read the details and see if it’s truly a victim centered approach (where all of the victims are offered services and only buyers and traffickers are arrested) or if it’s a detrimental approach that does more harm than good to victims. If it’s a harmful approach, how do we get this desperately needed training to our law enforcement?
Contact REHOPE for suggestions in obtaining training for law enforcement and professionals who intersect with trafficking victims.