UTAH (ABC4) — According to a study by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, trafficking situations increased by 40 percent in 2020 from 2019, Andrea Sherman, Trafficking in Person Program Director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center, says.

“Here in Utah, we saw that same trend,” Sherman shares. “We served more clients this year than we served last year. Even from 2018- 2020, we increased by 39 percent.”

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and ABC4 is taking this opportunity to debunk myths about the growing issue.

We turned to the Department of Homeland Security, the Office on Trafficking in Persons, and the National Human Trafficking Hotline for the truth behind commonly held myths.

Myth 1: Human trafficking doesn’t occur in the United States, so there is nothing I can do to help.

Truth: Human trafficking happens in every state in the United States, and everyone can keep an eye out for signs of it in their community, according to the Office on Trafficking in Persons. Visit Iamonwatch.org for free training on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.

Myth 2: Only those who are poor or born in another country experience human trafficking.

Truth: Human trafficking happens to people of all ages, genders, nationalities, and socioeconomic groups.

ABC4 joins Utah’s SECURE Strike Force in taking down a trafficking ring

Myth 3: Trafficking victims are physically held against their will.

Truth: Though this is sometimes the case, victims may stay for other reasons. The Office on Trafficking in Persons says these other reasons may include fearing for their safety, lacking the basic necessities to get out of the situation, or having money or important documents taken from them. Victims are often manipulated and may not recognize that they are being controlled by someone else or in a dangerous situation, according to Human Trafficking Hotline.

Myth 4: Traffickers’ victims are people they don’t know.

Truth: According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, many people are trafficked by those they know, such as spouses, romantic partners, and family members.

Myth 5: It’s not trafficking if someone was initially paid or agreed to their situation.

Truth: The Office on Trafficking in Persons says that it doesn’t matter if someone initially received payment or agreed to the situation before they were coerced or forced into performing labor or sex acts. It still counts as human trafficking.

Myth 6: Human trafficking only involves sex trafficking.

Truth: Human trafficking can also involve forcing people to work in both legitimate and illegitimate industries. These can include sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, hotels, and domestic service, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Child Trafficking in Utah

Myth 7: Individuals must be forced or coerced into sex acts in order to be human trafficking victims.

Truth: According to federal law, in the united States, anyone under 18 years old who is convinced to perform commercial sex acts is a human trafficking victim regardless of if they were coerced or forced, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Myth 8: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same thing.

Truth: Human smuggling and human trafficking are different, the Department of Homeland Security says. Human smuggling occurs when a person is willingly moved across the border in violation of immigration laws. However, human smuggling situations can turn into human trafficking if the smuggler forces or coerces people to labor or perform sex acts against their will.

Myth 9: Trafficking victims often try to seek help in public.

Truth: This is often untrue, the Department of Homeland Security says. Victims of human trafficking are often afraid to ask for or seek help due to threats or violence. These threats can include danger to their families. Perpetrators may have access to their identification documents.

Myth 10: Trafficking victims are largely women.

Truth: Sherman said that both men and women have high instances of human trafficking. Referring to her clients, she said that of 98 percent of foreign-born people in labor trafficking, 98 percent are men. “That’s not often what we see in the media,” Sherman says.

If you or someone you know if a victim of human trafficking, or to submit a tip, call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also text 233733.