Sex Trafficking Myths

A major part of BridgeNorth’s purpose is public education on the subject of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The only way to end sexual exploitation in Canada is to educate as many people as possible about how harmful it really is – not just to the women and girls caught in it, but to our entire society. As with many forms of abuse and exploitation, the subject of sex trafficking is shrouded in myths. It’s important to clarify some of these common myths in order to continue our mission of public education so that more Canadians are equipped to prevent, identify, and address sex trafficking.


Myth: Sex traffickers usually target strangers.
Fact: Building a relationship with someone and trying to establish trust is the tactic most commonly used by human traffickers to exploit their victims. Most often, victims are trafficked by someone they know - a former or current partner, a family member, co-worker, friend, or boss. Perpetrators often pretend to be romantically interested in a potential victim to gain control over them or may offer them a seemingly legitimate job. Human traffickers may also target strangers and use methods that can include intimation, manipulation, job offers, etc.

Myth: Sex trafficking usually begins in person and is always violent.
Fact: Sex trafficking is frequently portrayed as beginning with a violent act like kidnapping when in reality, the beginning stages of being trafficked are often non-violent, seemingly harmless but are insidious. For example, sex trafficking can often begin on social media, and the trafficker will start their relationship with their target in a friendly way. They meet potential victims in chat rooms and on platforms like Houseparty, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and may even pretend to be the victim’s age to engage them in conversation. A “friendship” develops, and the luring process is underway without the victim even knowing. With the rise of the internet and the presence of unmonitored youth on social platforms, sex traffickers are using digital technology more than ever to meet and groom potential victims.

Myth: Most victims of human trafficking in Canada are from other countries.
Fact: More than 90% of human trafficking victims in Canada are Canadian citizens. Most instances of human trafficking in Canada involve Canadian perpetrators and Canadian victims.

Myth: Sex Trafficking only happens to oppressed youth.
Fact: Sexual exploitation and trafficking can (and does) happen to any youth, regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, gender, religion, family income/class, or sexual orientation.

Myth: Traffickers and exploiters are always adult males.
Fact: While many of them are adult males, there have been many cases of exploiters and traffickers that have been females (specifically females exploiting younger females), as well as the increasing incidences of peer-to-peer exploitation.

Myth: Sex trafficking is usually a one-time incident
Fact: Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is an ongoing cycle of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Exploiters often take several months (even up to a year or two) to build a relationship with a victim and groom them before the perpetrator begins exploiting the victim. Victims are often trafficked or exploited for months or years.


Myth: Sex trafficking only happens to people who use drugs or have other high risk factors.
Fact: While some individuals can be identified as at-risk, there are also cases in which no known risk factors are present. In these instances, traffickers often target very young people and may build trust during a “grooming” period before exploitation begins.

Myth: You never get to see your family when you are trafficked
Fact: Survivors report that, in some cases, they were actually living at home with their parents while being trafficked. Sometimes movement from city to city takes place, but not always. Some survivors even report that they continue to attend school while being trafficked to maintain the illusion that everything is fine. While most traffickers try to isolate their victims from supportive relationships, like family and friends, victims may still see their family during this time.

Myth: It’s easy to exit, or get out of sex trafficking
Fact: Most individuals who are trafficked are controlled and monitored constantly and do not have the opportunity to ask for help. Others may not realize or acknowledge what is happening to them or that it’s a crime. Most victims of abuse, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking do not identify with these terms or crimes. In most cases, victims may fear their trafficker or even law enforcement too much to risk seeking help. Traffickers may also threaten their victims with further abuse, humiliation, or involving friends or family members should they try to tell anyone what is going on. Victims may also be manipulated into believing that their trafficker is the only person who cares about them.

Myth: People in active trafficking situations always want help getting out.
Fact: Every trafficking situation is unique and self-identification as a trafficked victim or survivor happens along a continuum. Fear, isolation, guilt, shame, misplaced loyalty, and expert manipulation are among the many factors that may keep a person from seeking help or identifying as a victim.

Myth: Human trafficking only happens in illegal or underground industries.
Fact: Human trafficking takes place in plain sight across various industries and in everyday hotels, condominiums, and legitimate businesses. Human trafficking cases in Ontario have been reported and prosecuted in industries including massage services, body rub parlours, holistic health services, restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories, and more.


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