Misconceptions about human trafficking are holding us back from creating lasting, tangible changes.
According to a wide-ranging new study by Northeastern criminologist Amy Farrell and her research partners, the severity of the criminal penalty for human trafficking in the U.S. has no effect on the number of suspects who are arrested and prosecuted for the crime. The study also found that judging of human trafficking crimes was uneven among the public and the law.
It’s no surprise that human trafficking is a major issue in the modern world. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes human trafficking as “a modern-day form of slavery” and says it “is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today.”
Unfortunately, misconceptions about the realities of what human trafficking is and how it actually happens in the U.S. are making the fight against it even more difficult.
As Salon notes in a very insightful article about human trafficking, several misconceptions (present in law makers and regular American citizens) hurt our ability to draft effective legislation. One example is the misconception that human trafficking only happens to foreigners, not to domestic U.S. citizens. This is not true, and it’s made all the more problematic when this misconception is used to create laws that don’t think to protect Americans as well.
There is also the misguided belief that teens, as opposed to children, consent to be trafficked because they like it and the money involved. The simple fact is that human trafficking is simply abuse.
Exploiting the Visa System
Another huge concern is the startling connection between human trafficking and the visa system that is currently in place in the U.S.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, data collected from 2005 to 2014 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that work and fiancé visas were the predominant means by which more than half of human traffickers known to the federal government legally smuggled their victims into the US.
This is particularly troubling because it means that human trafficking must be fought on multiple legal fronts, naturally increasing the difficulty of seeing quick results.
What to do?
However, the situation isn’t entirely hopeless! The findings of the study suggest that more comprehensive laws lead to more arrests and prosecutions, instead of simply increasing the severity of criminal penalties.