By Rev. Marsha Buford
Unless you’ve been actively involved in anti-trafficking organizations, those two little words were probably not a part of your lexicon five or 10 years ago. Human trafficking – also known as modern slavery – is defined as the exploitation of another person for sex, labor, or services. It is one of the most misunderstood social justice issues of our time and is often misrepresented in movies, books, and yes, the news. With this widespread misunderstanding, I’d like to address a few common myths.
Myth #1: Slavery doesn’t exist anymore. According to the most recent Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, an estimated 50 million people worldwide were living in situations of modern slavery in 2021. But because this issue is illegal and under-reported, these numbers are only estimates. The problem, however, is big and real.
Myth #2: Human trafficking only happens overseas. Human trafficking happens in every country, state, and community around the world. In 2021, 494 minors with an average age of 14 were identified as victims of human trafficking in Georgia. Savannah is no exception due to its high poverty rate, international port, booming tourism industry, and the crossroads of Interstate 95 and I-16. In fact, Chatham County ranks fourth in the state – out of 159 counties – for human trafficking.
Myth #3: Rescue is welcomed by survivors and brings immediate relief. Any rescue effort can be disorienting for victims, who often have a fear of law enforcement and distrust for strangers. Survivors have to give testimony about their abuse, which further traumatizes them, and it is not uncommon for them to hide from police. Rescue is only the beginning of a long healing process.
Myth #4: Traffickers are real-life boogeymen who set traps to lure and snatch children. According to data collected by the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, victims are familiar with their traffickers in more than 60 percent of cases. Family members – often parents with substance abuse issues selling their children for drugs – are involved in nearly half of human trafficking cases. When the abuser knows their victim, it is easier to coerce them.
Myth #5: There is nothing I can do about it. The late South African President Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Take time to learn the facts about human trafficking and pause when you see sensational and lurid social media stories. Check reputable sources and leverage trustworthy anti-trafficking organizations before spreading fake news.
While the problem of human trafficking is complicated, it takes all of us working together to put an end to it.
Rev. Marsha Buford is founder and pastor of The House of Favor Full Gospel Ministries in Savannah, and the president of the Board of Directors of Tharros Place, a Savannah nonprofit serving underage survivors of human trafficking.